The allegations of sexual harassment levied by Vinesh Phogat against the president of the Wrestling Federation of India Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, and other unnamed officials, are the latest - and most high-profile - examples of sexual abuse cases in Indian sport.
Vinesh, a two-time Olympian and a two-time World Championships medallist, alleged that Brij Bhushan and a few coaches have repeatedly exploited women wrestlers and coaches, as well as junior girls. This was at a protest staged by India's top wrestlers, including Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, in Delhi from Wednesday.
This is the fifth instance in the last nine months where cases of women athletes being sexually exploited have been publicly and formally recorded in India.
A 19-year-old national-level runner filed a sexual harassment complaint against P Nagarajan, a renowned athletics coach, in Chennai. She alleged that the coach would touch female athletes inappropriately, on the pretext of helping them with physiotherapy and stretching. Two months after the first complaint, seven more athletes, including some who have represented India, came forward with similar allegations. Nagarajan was arrested and is facing charges under the IPC and POCSO Act.
Gymnast Aruna Budda Reddy claimed that her coach Rohit Jaiswal had videographed her without her consent during trials in March 2022. However, the Gymnastics Federation of India did not penalise Jaiswal, which prompted the Sports Authority of India to form a three-member panel and launch a probe. Despite this, Jaiswal was named as a coach in India's Commonwealth Games contingent, before he was replaced at the last minute.
Alex Ambrose, assistant coach of the Indian women's U-17 football team, was suspended and sent back from a training camp in Norway for allegedly abusing a minor player. Ambrose, who was also the All India Football Federation's head of scouting, denied the charges and served the federation a legal notice. A case under the POSCO Act was filed, but there have been zero updated on this in over four months.
A woman cyclist accused national team head coach RK Sharma of sexually inappropriate behaviour during a training-cum-competition trip to Slovenia. Days after the initial complaint, three more cyclists alleged that Sharma had harassed and threatened them for years. The Sports Authority of India terminated Sharma's contract and launched an investigation.
Vinesh, one of India's best women wrestlers, alleged that Brij Bhushan has sexually exploited female wrestlers for years. "I don't know how many women the adyaksh [president] has exploited. There are girls seated here who have also been exploited. I can name at least 10-20 female wrestlers in the national camp who have told me how they were exploited. I've been hearing such stories since the time I've known adyakshji. I've openly said today, I don't know if I will be alive tomorrow," Vinesh said on Wednesday.
The Sports Ministry had sought an explanation from WFI and directed it to furnish a reply within 72 hours. It also cancelled the women's national camp in Lucknow. Eventually, the wrestlers called off their protest late on Friday, after the ministry formed an oversight committee, with the WFI President stepping aside for the duration of the four-week enquiry.