World body announces suspension over India’s failure to hold elections after its federation chief was charged with sexual misconduct.
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has been suspended by the sport’s world governing body for not holding elections after its chief was charged with sexual misconduct.
India’s top wrestlers staged weeks of sit-in protests in New Delhi this year to demand the resignation of WFI President Brij Bhushan Singh.
The 66-year-old, also a lawmaker for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has since been charged with sexual harassment and stalking and is currently free on bail.
The federation’s leadership was disbanded in the wake of the scandal, with fresh elections scheduled for earlier this month but postponed indefinitely at the last moment.
“The absence of a regularly elected president and a board does not comply with the UWW regulations and the conditions for membership,” United World Wrestling said in a statement late on Thursday.
Indian wrestlers will be allowed to compete in the Asian Games next month but not under the Indian flag, the statement added.
Singh, accused of groping female athletes and demanding sexual favours, has denied the allegations and claimed to be the victim of a “conspiracy” to force him out of parliament.
Seven female wrestlers, including a minor, had filed police complaints against him, accusing him of stalking, touching them with sexual intent, making sexual remarks and “outraging their modesty”.
Wrestlers and supporters arrested
Singh has a criminal record dating back to the 1990s. He still has four criminal cases pending against him on charges that include theft, attempted murder and illegal payments in connection with an election.
Several top wrestlers were charged with rioting and disorder after being arrested during a protest against him in May. Images of star athletes being detained by police as they tried to march to parliament went viral on social media.
Several of their supporters were also arrested after scuffles with police broke out in front of parliament.
Indian wrestlers then vowed to take the matter to court.
Olympian Vinesh Phogat, one of the athletes who led the protests, told Al Jazeera that several sexual harassment cases have been previously reported against Singh, but he either made the charges disappear or ensured the complainant did not compete again.
Wrestling is popular in rural northern India. In the 76 years since India’s independence, it has won 21 medals in individual sports, seven by wrestlers.
Wrestler Anita Sheoran, who has won a Commonwealth Games gold and is a witness in a sexual harassment case, has filed her nomination to replace Singh in the top post.
But backers of Singh, whose family is prohibited from contesting the elections, had been expected to win any election.
Bajrang Punia, who is one of the wrestlers who led protests against Singh and who was a bronze medallist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is on the squad for the Asian Games starting on September 23 in Hangzhou, China