IOA forms seven-member committee to probe allegations against WFI chief

Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya address the media about their protest against the Wrestling Federation of India. Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The Indian Olympic Association on Friday formed a seven-member committee, including M C Mary Kom and Yogeshwar Dutt, to probe the allegations of sexual harassment against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh by top wrestlers.

The allegations have been made by some of the country's top wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Ravi Dahiya.

Besides legendary boxer Mary Kom and wrestler Yogeshwar, the panel also includes archer Dola Banerjee and Indian Weightlifting Federation of India (IWLF) president Sahdev Yadav. The committee also has two advocates, including Nilanjan Bhattacharjee, and former badminton player Alaknanda Ashok.

The decision was taken during the IOA's emergency Executive Council meeting, which was attended by the likes of Olympic champion shooter Abhinav Bindra, Olympic bronze medallist Yogeshwar, along with IOA president PT Usha and joint secretary Kalyan Chaubey.

Shiva Keshvan was a special invitee in the meeting.

IOA president Usha has assured that a thorough investigation will be carried out by the panel to ensure justice.

This comes after the agitating wrestlers had earlier on Friday reached out to the IOA, demanding formation of an enquiry committee to probe the allegations against Singh, a day after threatening to lodge multiple FIRs against the WFI chief.

In a letter addressed to IOA president, the wrestlers alleged financial misappropriation (of funds) on part of the WFI and claimed that the coaches and sports science staff at the national camp are "absolutely incompetent".

Reacting to the latest development, Usha tweeted, "As IOA President, I've been discussing the current matter of wrestlers with the members and for all of us the welfare and well being of the athletes is the top most priority of IOA. We request athletes to come forward and voice their concerns with us.

"We will ensure a complete investigation to ensure justice. We also have decided to form a special committee to deal with such situations that may arise in the future, for swifter action." The panel will call all the concerned parties as part of its investigation.

Sahadev Yadav told PTI, "We will call the wrestlers and listen to what they have to say and conduct a proper investigation." Putting forward their four demands, the wresters wrote: "We request the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to immediately appoint a committee to enquire into the complaints of sexual harassment."

The wrestlers also reiterated their demand that WFI be disbanded and its president be sacked.

"A new committee should be formed to run the affairs of WFI in consultation with the wrestlers," they wrote in their fourth and last demand.

The letter was signed by five wrestlers -- Tokyo Olympics medallists Dahiya and Bajrang, Rio Games bronze winner Sakshi and World Championship medallists Vinesh and Deepak Punia.

Further in the letter, the athletes pleaded, "It has taken a lot of courage for us wrestlers to come together and protest against the WFI President. We fear for our lives. If he is not sacked then the careers of all the young who joined the dharna will be over." They ended the letter by writing that "we will not budge until the WFI President is sacked".

Beijing Olympics bronze medallist boxer and now a Congress leader Vijender Singh also visited the protest site at Jantar Mantar, showing solidarity with the wrestlers.

Vinesh had on Thursday said that more woman wrestlers came forward with their stories of sexual exploitation and they would file multiple FIRs against the WFI president.

They met government officials on Friday and later had a dinner meeting with Sports Minister Anurag Thakur at his residence after being called for discussion on the raging issue.