India asks protesting wrestlers to wait for police probe outcome

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 sports minister on Wednesday urged wrestling champions who have staged protests accusing their federation chief of sexual harassment to await the outcome of investigations into the allegations before deciding their next course of action.

Minister Anurag Thakur said the national capital's police is investigating the case, following directions from the Supreme Court. He asked the wrestlers to have faith in the probe.

Thakur was speaking a day after Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik and Asian Games champion Vinesh Phogat said they would toss their medals into the river Ganga as part of their demand for the arrest of their federation chief.

A prominent farmers' leader convinced them to call off that action, promising a solution within five days.

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.

"Dear players, wait for and have faith in the Delhi Police’s investigation. It has registered the FIR on the Supreme Court’s direction," Thakur told reporters, referring to the complaint registered by police.

He added that while the investigation was proceeding it would not be appropriate to take any action that could hurt any other sport or players.

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

He protested his innocence again on Wednesday.

"I am once again saying that even if a single allegation is proved against me, I will hang myself,” Singh said at a public event in his home state of Uttar Pradesh according to a Press Trust of India report on the Times of India website.

"Brij Bhushan will not be hanged by throwing medals in the Ganga. If you have proof, give it to the court and if the court hangs me, I will accept it," Singh said.

The United World Wrestling on Tuesday criticised the "lack of results" in the investigations against Singh and reminded the Indian Olympic Association of a promise it made in April to hold fresh elections for the WFI within 45 days.

(Reporting by Krishn Kaushik; Editing by YP Rajesh, William Maclean)

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