United World Wrestling Suspends India’s Wrestling Federation Membership Over Election Dispute

United World Wrestling Suspends India's Wrestling Federation Membership Over Election Dispute

The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has been suspended by United World Wrestling (UWW), the global governing body for wrestling. This action comes as a result of the WFI’s failure to conduct elections, amidst a conflict between athletes and the former head of the federation.

Consequently, Indian wrestlers are now compelled to participate in the upcoming World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia as neutral competitors. This event holds significance as an Olympic qualification opportunity. However, in the event of podium success, these athletes will not be able to showcase their national flag or anthem.

Kalyan Chaubey, the acting CEO of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), has indicated that the IOA is deliberating on possible courses of action. Notably, India is slated to hold selection trials for the World Championships in Patiala, Punjab over the upcoming Friday and Saturday.

The suspension was prompted by UWW’s call on the IOA to adhere to a 45-day timeline for conducting elections within India’s wrestling governing body. Prior warnings from the international body in January and May had outlined the potential sanctions that could be imposed should the elections not take place.

This recent decision follows a prior ultimatum issued by UWW in June. During this time, prominent Indian Olympic wrestlers such as Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat, accused former WFI president Brij Bhushan of sexual harassment. Brij Bhushan, who also holds the position of Member of Parliament for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was the subject of a 37-day sit-in protest in New Delhi. The protest concluded in June after government intervention from the Narendra Modi-led administration.

Brij Bhushan, aged 66, has served six terms as a Member of Parliament, five of which were under the BJP’s banner. He completed three consecutive four-year terms as the WFI president, the maximum tenure allowed for the position, before stepping down earlier this year. The election for his successor was initially scheduled for June but faced repeated delays due to the athletes’ protests and court orders.

The most recent election date was set for August 12; however, it was postponed once again on the eve of polling due to a stay order from the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Among the contenders for his position are Sanjay Singh, an aide of Brij Bhushan, and Anita Sheoran, a former Commonwealth Games gold medalist.

Although Brij Bhushan denies any wrongdoing, the Delhi Police’s charge sheet asserts that he is “liable to be prosecuted and punished for offences” related to sexual harassment, molestation, and stalking. Various sections of the Indian Penal Code, encompassing charges like outraging the modesty of a woman and sexual harassment stalking, have been applied. Legal proceedings are ongoing.

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