Need a member of our choice in the probe panel … it’s a sensitive issue: Bajrang Punia

Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia has insisted that the protesting wrestlers, who have made sexual harassment charges against Wrestling Federation of India president and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, want a nominee of their choice in the probe panel set by Sports Ministry.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Bajrang said, “The women wrestlers who have faced sexual harassment are willing to talk to the Oversight Committee only if the person we suggest is added to the committee. This is a sensitive issue and they need to be confident that a fair probe will be conducted.”

During the meeting with the sports minister Anurag Thakur late on Friday, the names of members of the committee were not agreed upon and the wrestlers were told to take ‘two to three days’ to discuss among themselves and suggest their nominee.

“There was a discussion (with the sports minister on Friday) and after that, we told the sports minister to give us time. We said we would talk among ourselves because we can’t immediately decide who we want on the committee. We respect everyone named on the committee, they are also sportspersons and we are not finding fault with them. But this is an issue related to girls and a very sensitive issue. We need someone who we can trust fully in the Oversight Committee,” Bajrang said. He went on to add that they were taken aback when sports minister Thakur announced the names of the committee members on Tuesday.

Olympic medallist-boxer Mary Kom heads the committee which also includes Olympic medallist-wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, former badminton player and Mission Olympic Cell member Trupti Murgunde, former CEO of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme Rajesh Rajagopalan, and former Sports Authority of India executive director (teams) Radhica Sreeman.

“Mary Kom’s name was discussed (at the meeting on Friday), Radhica madam’s name was discussed and the (former) TOPs CEO’s name was discussed. But nothing was agreed upon. We said that we will not take any immediate decision. We were told that we will be consulted before the members of the committee were finalised. After that, there was no communication from the minister or anyone and then we heard that the committee members were named,” said Bajrang, who confirmed that fellow-wrestler Yogeshwar’s name was not discussed at the meeting.

The protest by the wrestlers, including Rio Olympics bronze medalist Sakshi Malik and two-time World Championship bronze medalist Vinesh Phogat at Jantar Mantar in Delhi was called off last Friday after the wrestlers held a five-hour meeting with Thakur, who promised them that the allegations would be investigated.

The Oversight Committee is in charge of running the day-to-day affairs of the WFI and Singh has stepped aside for a month till the probe is completed.

The wrestlers don’t want the committee already named by the sports minister to be disbanded. But they are hoping that the sports minister will agree to add their choice of a member to the committee when they meet for talks post-Republic Day.

“We are hoping that there will be a fair probe and we trust the government. Tomorrow is January 26. It is a proud day for the country. We don’t want to take any steps because it is a big day. We don’t want to protest or say anything which can paint a negative picture on Republic day. We, wrestlers, fight for the glory of the country. We hope to talk to the sports minister again after Republic Day. Currently, we are unhappy with what has happened,” Bajrang said.

Last week, accusing Brij Bhushan of sexual harassment, Vinesh had said, “Women wrestlers have been sexually harassed at national camps by coaches and also the WFI president. Some of the coaches appointed at national camps have been sexually harassing women wrestlers for years. The WFI president is also involved in sexual harassment.”

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