Vinesh Phogat Returns Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award
In a bold move 4 days after ANNOUNCING her intention to relinquish the prestigious Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award, famous wrestler Vinesh Phogat made a symbolic statement on 30th Dec 2023 by leaving the medals on a pavement along Kartavya Path in New Delhi.
This dramatic gesture unfolded after Vinesh was prevented from reaching the Prime Minister’s office by the Delhi Police. The decision to return the awards was communicated via an open letter to the Prime Minister earlier in the week, a move echoing the recent decisions by fellow wrestlers Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia.
Vinesh Phogat, a popular name in Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, along with Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, had been actively involved in protests against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the then chief of the Wrestling Federation of India. Singh, also a BJP MP, faced serious allegations of sexual harassment from multiple women wrestlers.
Bajrang Punia shared a video capturing Vinesh Phogat’s symbolic act on Kartavya Path, a stretch from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate. The video showed Phogat carrying the Arjuna Award trophy and what appeared to be a letter. In the footage, she engages in a conversation with a police officer, highlighting the significance of her protest.
Discontent in Wrestling Federation:
The trio of Phogat, Malik, and Punia expressed their dissatisfaction after a panel led by Sanjay Singh, a close associate of Brij Bhushan Singh, secured a resounding victory in the elections for the Wrestling Federation of India on December 21. This electoral outcome signaled a continuation of the existing leadership despite the serious allegations against Singh. The panel’s win, defeating Commonwealth Games Gold medallist Anita Sheoran, led to a wave of disappointment among the protesting wrestlers.
In response to the contentious election results, the Sports Ministry took action on December 24 2023 by suspending the panel led by Sanjay Singh, the close confidant of Brij Bhusan Singh. The suspension was due to the panel’s failure to adhere to its own constitutional provisions in decision-making. The ministry called upon the Indian Olympic Association to form an ad-hoc panel to oversee day-to-day affairs at the Wrestling Federation of India. The new panel was subsequently constituted three days later.
Vinesh Phogat’s gesture, along with the decisions by Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, reflects a collective frustration among prominent wrestlers over the governance of the sport. As the wrestling community deals with these challenges, the Sports Ministry’s intervention adds more complexity to the unfolding narrative, leaving the future leadership of the Wrestling Federation of India uncertain.