In a closely-watched election, the panel supported by outgoing Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh emerged victorious. Assuring impartiality and no vendetta politics, Brij Bhushan stated that protesting wrestlers would receive the necessary support from the new federation.
Despite facing sexual harassment charges from women wrestlers, Brij Bhushan emphasized that the new administration would work without bias. However, the move saw Rio Olympics medallist Sakshi Malik announcing her retirement, citing her unwillingness to compete under the leadership of someone backed by the former WFI boss.
Active wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia expressed disappointment with the election outcome but chose not to follow Sakshi in retiring from the sport. The trio had earlier accused Brij Bhushan of sexual exploitation, sparking a protest in January 2023.
Brij Bhushan assured that all wrestlers, irrespective of their past actions, would receive support from the WFI. Addressing concerns about potential partiality, he stated, “We have to look after the game and not the mistakes of the wrestlers.”
When questioned about his involvement in the day-to-day running of the federation, Brij Bhushan indicated a hands-off approach, stating that he would offer suggestions if sought. The new body, led by Bhupender Singh Bajwa, is expected to control wrestling, potentially revisiting certain policy decisions made by the ad-hoc panel.
The ad-hoc panel, led by Bhupender Singh Bajwa, had recently announced that Olympic quotas would belong to the country, not the individual wrestler and that wrestlers must undergo selection trials for the 2024 Paris Games. Brij Bhushan suggested continuity with decisions that are “for the good of wrestling.”
Despite claims of a sweeping victory, the new secretary-general and senior vice-president emerged from the rival camp led by Commonwealth Games gold medallist wrestler Anita Sheoran. Former Railways Sports Promotion Board secretary Prem Chand Lochab is the new secretary-general, while Devender Kadian secured the post of senior vice-president.
Reflecting on the past 11 months, Brij Bhushan described it as unfortunate, both personally and for the sport. He dismissed the allegations against him, suggesting that the protesting wrestlers were exposed over time as the media and the country demanded evidence.
#WATCH | Former WFI chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh says, "…First they (protesting wrestlers) had some other demand & later they demanded something else. They are changing their demands and language continuously. I had said that if even one case against me gets… pic.twitter.com/oKR1KtUQYx— ANI (@ANI) June 1, 2023
Brij Bhushan attributed his panel’s victory to their past contributions to the sport and the belief that their supporters would prevail in the elections. He urged the new leadership to prioritize the U-15 and junior nationals, recommending their conduct before December 31.
As the wrestling community navigates this transition, the focus now shifts to how the new leadership will shape the future of the sport in India.