Wrestling-Indian athletes postpone medal-immersion protest against chief

FILE PHOTO: Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Sakshi Malik address a news conference as they take part in a sit-in protest demanding arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief, who they accuse of sexually harassing female players, in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2023. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India's top wrestlers were talked out of their plans to toss their medals into the river Ganges on Tuesday as part of their ongoing demand to arrest their federation chief over sexual harassment allegations.

The athletes had been camping in New Delhi since April 23 demanding action against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has denied allegations of sexually harassing female athletes.

Singh could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Several of the protesting wrestlers were briefly detained by Delhi Police on Sunday and their camp site was cleared after they tried to move towards India's new parliament building.

Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, and Asian Games champion Vinesh Phogat reached the north Indian town of Haridwar along with fellow wrestlers to dump their medals as a mark of protest.

A prominent farmers' leader, Naresh Tikait, convinced them to call off the act promising a solution within five days.

"Because of them, we hold our head high in international sports arena," Tikait told the media.

"We will make sure they won't have to hang their head in shame."

A member of parliament for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Singh has been stripped of his administrative powers.

Earlier on Tuesday, the wrestlers issued a statement spelling out their plans to drown their medals in the river.

"For us, our medals are sacred, and so is the river Ganges," they said in a statement in Hindi.

"This holy river is the perfect custodian of our medals, not the system that shields the offender."

They also announced plans to begin an indefinite hunger strike in New Delhi.

The United World Wrestling issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the detention of the wrestlers and criticising the "lack of results" in the investigations against Singh.

Wrestling's governing body reminded the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) of its promise, made in April, to hold fresh elections for the WFI within 45 days.

"Failing to do so may lead UWW to suspend the federation, thereby forcing the athletes to compete under a neutral flag," it warned.

The UWW would hold a meeting with the wrestlers to inquire about their condition and safety, it added.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christian Radnedge)

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