Indian wrestlers aim for Olympics post-sexual harassment scandal.


In the aftermath of seismic protests over sexual harassment allegations that rocked Indian wrestling, female athletes are now gearing up for major competitions, including the 2024 Paris Olympics. The BBC recently delved into the stories of several young wrestlers, shedding light on their journeys and the challenges they’ve faced.

One such wrestler is Reetika Hooda, a 23-year-old who has qualified for the Olympics. Her path to qualification was fraught with setbacks and uncertainty, exacerbated by a year-long hiatus in Indian wrestling. This pause came after serious allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled against Brij Bhushan Singh, the chief of the wrestling federation. Despite the allegations, Singh remained in his position initially, prompting unprecedented protests from India’s top wrestlers, including the iconic Sakshi Malik.

Malik, the only Indian woman to have won an Olympic medal in wrestling, became a rallying point for the protest movement. Alongside fellow athletes, she camped on the streets of Delhi demanding Singh’s resignation. Their actions drew global attention and condemnation when they were detained by police during a march to the new Indian parliament building. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) called for an impartial investigation into their grievances, highlighting the gravity of the situation.

For athletes like Reetika Hooda, the hiatus meant an uncertain future. With no competitions or trials to gauge their progress, there was a pervasive fear of being underprepared for the Olympics. This period of limbo underscored broader concerns about the governance of sports federations in India, particularly regarding adherence to sexual harassment laws and the overall management of sporting bodies.

The situation finally saw a semblance of resolution when fresh elections were conducted for the Wrestling Federation of India in December 2023, nearly a year after the protests began. However, the outcome of these elections, with a close aide of Brij Bhushan Singh assuming leadership, led to continued discontent among female wrestlers. Sakshi Malik, deeply disillusioned by the turn of events, chose to retire from the sport—an emotional decision that resonated deeply within the wrestling community.

Despite these challenges, young wrestlers like Tanu Malik, inspired by Sakshi’s legacy, doubled down on their training efforts. In Haryana state’s Yudhvir Wrestling Academy, where dedication knows no age, girls as young as 12 push themselves through grueling sessions starting at 04:30 in the morning. Their training regimen includes intense fitness routines and wrestling drills, demonstrating their unwavering commitment to their sport.

While the specter of sexual harassment allegations and administrative controversies looms over Indian wrestling, the athletes remain steadfast in their pursuit of excellence. Seema Kharab, a coach at the academy, observes that contrary to expectations, the number of girls participating has not waned. Instead, the protests have empowered young wrestlers, showing them the importance of raising their voices and seeking systemic support for their concerns.

Beyond the personal stories of athletes, the turmoil within Indian wrestling reflects broader societal challenges and aspirations. It underscores the evolving role of women in sports and the imperative of creating safe and empowering environments for athletes at all levels. The saga serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equity and accountability in sports governance worldwide.

Looking ahead to the Paris Olympics, Reetika Hooda and her peers embody resilience and determination in the face of adversity. Their journey is not just about winning medals but also about reclaiming the integrity of their sport and inspiring future generations of athletes. As they prepare to represent India on the global stage, their stories resonate as testaments to courage, perseverance, and the unyielding spirit of sport.


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