India’s Sakshi Malik quits over election of new wrestling federation chief

Top wrestler quits the sport after Indian wrestling body replaces the powerful president accused of sexual abuse with his close ally.

Sakshi Malik
Sakshi Malik won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics [File: Hannah Mckay/Reuters]

A top Indian wrestler has announced she will quit the sport in protest after the country’s wrestling federation replaced a president accused of sexually abusing female athletes with his close ally.

Sakshi Malik, an acclaimed wrestler who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and led protests against Brij Bhushan Singh, the former chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), announced her retirement on Thursday.

“We slept for 40 days on the roads and a lot of people from several parts of the country came to support us,” Malik, 31, told a news conference in New Delhi, referring to the protests earlier this year.

“If Brij Bhushan Singh’s business partner and a close aide is elected as the president of WFI, I quit wrestling”, she said before leaving the conference with tears in her eyes.

Malik became an outspoken voice over harassment and discrimination faced by female athletes in India, a plight underscored by charges filed against Singh in June accusing him of sexually harassing six female wrestlers, including a minor, during his time leading the WFI.

Singh, who is also a six-time parliamentarian and member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), denied any wrongdoing, dramatically stating then that he will hang himself if the accusations are proven to be true.

Asked about Malik’s decision to quit, 66-year-old Singh on Thursday said, “I have nothing to do with it.”

Singh was stripped of his administrative duties in January, and the government promised to investigate the accusations. But Malik and other athletes renewed their protests in April after the government refused to disclose the findings of a panel looking into the incidents.

In recent months, Singh actively campaigned for Sanjay Singh to replace him and predicted his victory to the local press.

On Thursday, the WFI voted to replace Brij Bhushan Singh with Sanjay Singh, who defeated Anita Sheoran, another contender for the presidency who had won a gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and had supported the campaign by the athletes to bring attention to the allegations of abuse.

“It’s a very big victory of truth over lies,” Sanjay Singh told members of the media after securing 40 out of the 47 votes by the federation’s member institutions. He told reporters that he was committed to supporting wrestlers, but did not comment on Malik’s announcement.

The United World Wrestling (UWW), the global wrestling body which suspended the Indian federation in August over the wrestlers’ protest, is yet to comment on the election.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies