Top Indian wrestlers accuse sports body chief of sexual harassment

Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and other Indian wrestlers take part in a protest demanding the disbandment of the WFI and the investigation of its head by the police, who they accuse of sexually harassing female players, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, India, January 19, 2023. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Olympic medal-winning Indian wrestlers have accused the chief of their sport's governing body and its coaches of sexually harassing female players and have vowed to protest until the federation is disbanded and its head investigated.

Olympic bronze winners Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, and Commonwealth Games women's gold winner Vinesh Phogat, began a sit-in protest in the capital New Delhi on Wednesday, along with other athletes, as they went public with the allegations.

They have accused Wrestling Federation of India President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is also a member of parliament from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, of sexual harassment.

Singh has denied all allegations against him and said the athletes have no evidence to support them. The athletes say they know five or six players who have in the past been victims of harassment.

The wrestlers met sports ministry officials on Thursday and were given "assurances" of action, Malik, The first Indian female wrestler to win an Olympic medal, told reporters at the protest site.

"We have not received a satisfactory reply," added Phogat.

The sports ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that it took a "very serious view of the matter" and had sought a response to the allegations from the federation within 72 hours.

Punia, one of India's top male wrestlers, Malik and Phogat said they would not take part in any tournaments until adequate action was taken and the wrestling federation was disbanded.

(Reporting by Shivam Patel in New Delhi; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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