New Delhi, April 28
The Indian sporting fraternity on Friday put its weight behind the protesting wrestlers, with Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra leading the way with a plea for “quick action” to ensure that justice is served.
Besides champion javelin thrower Chopra, ace boxer Nikhat Zareen, tennis star Sania Mirza, hockey player Rani Rampal, renowned former cricketers Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Madan Lal and Navjot Singh Sidhu also came out in support of the wrestlers.
These sports personalities expressed their views a day after Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president PT Usha came down heavily on the wrestlers for hitting the streets to resume their protests instead of approaching its athletes’ commission.
The wrestlers have accused Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexual harassment and intimidation.
Chopra tweeted, “It hurts me to see our athletes on the streets demanding justice. They have worked hard to represent our great nation and make us proud. As a nation, we are responsible for safeguarding the integrity and dignity of every individual, athlete or not. What’s happening should never happen. “ “This is a sensitive issue, and must be dealt with in an impartial and transparent manner. Pertaining authorities must take quick action in order to ensure that justice is served.”
The wrestlers have now received support from the country’s only two individual Olympic gold medallists, with 2008 Beijing Games shooting champion Abhinav Bindra too recently voicing his support to the grapplers.
The wrestlers, who include Olympics, Commonwealth and World Championships medal winners in Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat, have been sitting in at Jantar Mantar in the heart of the National Capital since last weekend.
Double world championship gold medallist Zareen said, “It breaks my heart to see our Olympic & World medallists in this state. Sports people also serve the nation by bringing glory & laurels. I sincerely hope & pray that the law takes its own course and justice is served at the earliest. Jai Hind.”
Sania tweeted, “As an athlete but more as a woman this is too difficult to watch .. they’ve brought laurels to our country and we have all celebrated them, with them .. if you have done that then it’s time to now stand with them in this difficult time too .. this is a highly sensitive matter and serious allegations. I hope whatever the truth is justice is served.. sooner rather than later.”
While no active India cricketer has expressed its opinion on the matter, some former players aired their views.
“It is extremely sad that our champions, who have brought laurels to the country, hoisted the flag and brought so much happiness to all of us, have to come out on the road today. It is a very sensitive matter and it should be investigated impartially. Hope the players get justice,” Sehwag tweeted.
Former off-spinner and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Harbhajan wrote, “Sakshi, Vinesh are India’s pride. I am pained as a sportsperson to find pride of our country coming out to protest on the streets. I pray that they get justice.”
Irfan Pathan wrote, “Indian athletes are always our pride not only when they get medals for us…” While Madan Lal said, “Problem with our sports men’s and women’s are they never stand by there own players. P T usha comments are not best for players unity.”
Navjot Singh Sidhu, a former India cricketer and Punjab Congress leader, also voiced his concerns and said he will join the wrestlers at Jantar Mantar on Monday. “Shocking that 9 women of recognition complained & no FIR is registered. It’ll be a tear on the cheek of time in Indian history. Any country that insults their women icons is hurting its own pride , these women have brought laurels to the nation. They have given wings to the aspirations of millions.
“Hurting their self esteem is hurting India’s pride … are the bigwigs of our country above the law? The law must set a deterrent that generations must tremble before insulting women, a good example is the best sermon you can preach.”
Meanwhile, Indian women’s team star hockey player Rani Rampal said, “Extremely painful to see our renowned wrestlers demanding justice on the streets of India. It tears me apart to see my fellow athletes in this situation who have worked hard in their lives won great laurels for our beloved country. THEY DESERVE JUSTICE.”
Chopra, who is currently training in Antalya, Turkey and has his season-opening event in Doha Diamond League on May 6, has been getting compliments on social media since expressing his views on the issue.
Also backing the wrestlers were cricket legend Kapil Dev and six-time Winter Olympian Shiva Keshavan, among others.
On Thursday, Bindra had tweeted, “As athletes, we train hard every day to represent our country on the international stage. It is deeply concerning to see our athletes finding it necessary to protest on the streets regarding the allegations of harassment in the Indian wrestling administration.”
Over the last five days, the wrestlers have slept and trained at the protest site.
Speaking to reporters after an executive committee meeting of the IOA on Thursday, Usha said, “Our feeling is that for sexual harassment complaints, IOA has a committee and athletes’ commission. Instead of going to the street (again), they should have come to us, but they have not at all come to IOA.”
The IOA also announced the formation of a three-member committee to run the day-to-day affairs of the WFI and conduct fresh polls within 45 days.