Jnr wrestlers hold protest, raise slogans against Sakshi, Bajrang and Vinesh

The ongoing wrestling conundrum took a fresh turn on Wednesday with hundreds of young wrestlers staging a sit-in protest demanding resumption of training and tournaments for age-group competitors, blaming the current stoppage on seniors Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat.

Junior wrestlers protest against Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi on Wednesday(Ishant )

Arriving in buses at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, a venue where Bajrang, Sakshi and Vinesh, began their protest a year ago alleging then Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Singh of sexual harassment — the case is in a Delhi court and a newly elected body was recently suspended by the union sports ministry after the senior trio protested that new president Sanjay Singh was from Brij Bhushan’s camp.

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The juniors held up placards, blaming the absence of wrestling activities in the last one year on the protests led by Bajrang, Sakshi and Vinesh. The protest began at around 11 am when the young wrestlers based in Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh arrived. A majority of them were from Arya Samaj Akhara in Baghpat, UP and the Virender Wrestling Academy in Narela on the outskirts of Delhi. The wrestlers did not say who had asked them to assemble.

They raised slogans and displayed placards against Punia, Phogat, and Malik. The protestors included U-23 world champion Reetika Hooda and Greco-Roman wrestler Sunil Kumar, bronze medallist at the Hangzhou Asian Games. In the wake of last year’s protest, there was no national camp or championships for the juniors in 2023.

The wrestlers demanded that the sports ministry should revoke WFI’s suspension in 10 days. WFI’s office-bearers too have questioned the suspension — and ad hoc body is running the sport — and said they would approach the court.

“If they don’t do it, we will start returning our Arjuna and other awards to the government like Bajrang and Vinesh did,” said Sunil, who will receive the Arjuna award this month.

Hooda, who trains at Rohtak’s Chhotu Ram Academy where Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi learned her ropes said the junior wrestlers’ future was at stake. “There was no wrestling activity last year. Those youngsters who want to compete must get the opportunity to train,” she said.

The protestors sent a memorandum to the sports ministry seeking action against Bajrang and Vinesh for “disrespecting national awards by leaving them on the street”.

Soon after the three-hour protest, the ad hoc panel announced that the U-15 and U-20 nationals will be held within six weeks in Gwalior.

Sakshi responded to the protest in a press conference at her residence in Delhi. She said it was unfair to target them for the junior wrestlers’ loss. “We don’t want junior wrestlers to suffer. Blaming us for their loss is not right,” she said.

Sanjay Singh, president of the suspended WFI, said: “I’ve been trying to speak to the sports minister for many days but have not been successful. I have no choice but to approach court. I’ll file a petition in a day or two.”

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