"Requirement of action against a member of oversight committee for leaking sensitive information to the press @ianuragthakur," read the tweet. The tweeter? Vinesh Phogat. The person tagged in it? The sports minister of India. The allegation in the tweet? That a member of the oversight committee set up to investigate the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and its president was leaking information and unduly influencing said investigation. Or in other words, 'your system isn't working, Mr. Minister. We want change.'
- Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) February 26, 2023
"We want change" was the message spelt out by India's top wrestlers when they first sat down on the streets of New Delhi five weeks ago. In three days the ministry had announced the set-up of this oversight committee, ordered the temporary suspension of the WFI President and given the committee four weeks to submit a report. Vinesh's tweet came four weeks and three days after that first official announcement.
The report submission deadline has been extended by two weeks. On the outside, nothing's changed. What goes on inside the federation and the committee, only they know. There have been no preliminary reports or status updates made public. Transparency is great as a buzzword but that's the last you'll hear of it. The investigation committee set up by the Indian Olympic Association, just hours before the ministry's, remains as silent as they were on day one. This country's love affair with bureaucracy remains as committed as ever.
In the meantime, there have been grumblings and murmurs. Of wrestlers unhappy about not being consulted on the formation of the ministry's committee. On the ministry being livid at the top wrestlers skipping two major international tournaments in the past month. "We don't get it. Why are they not competing when their demands have been met? We need to give time to the committee to complete its probe. It is the wrestlers' decision and we can't force anyone but they should not have missed the events," an unnamed ministry official reportedly told PTI.
The one material thing that has come out of this whole shebang has been that United World Wrestling, the world body that governs the sport, pulled the Asian Championships out of New Delhi explicitly citing the ongoing investigation as their reason to do so.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are left wondering, 'what is going on?'
These elite athletes have not competed all year. The newly postponed Asian Championships are a month away. The Asian Games are in seven months. This is a key pre-Olympic year. What happens to the athletes of our most medal-heavy sport ahead of Paris?
Plainly, all's not well. Vinesh's tweet. The story of the ministry's anger. The world body's decision to get out of India. All three things are indicative of disharmony, mistrust, and absolutely no communication among the stakeholders: of whom the general public are one.
Why wasn't the ministry able to convince the top wrestlers that things are under control and that they should return to their day jobs? Why wasn't the oversight committee able to communicate to the world body that they were in charge and that hosting a major international tournament wouldn't be an issue? Why did Vinesh choose to go public, again, with her grievance instead of using official channels to complain? Did any of them even try?
Clearly, in Vinesh's case, she's realized that complaints will be heard louder if they are aired in public. The initial protest showed her and her colleagues this and that's also why Bajrang Punia quote-tweeted her complaint with, "Very shameful and condemnable! Taking inspiration from whom the players should always move forward and the same player, for his personal interest, is openly making fun of those women players who themselves are fighting for their self-respect. What justice can we expect from such a player??" Top wrestlers Sakshi Malik and Sonam Malik followed him in quote-tweeting Vinesh.
बहुत ही शर्मनाक और निन्दनीय !
जिनसे प्रेरणा लेकर खिलाड़ी हमेशा आगे बढ़ें हों और वही खिलाड़ी जब अपने निजी स्वार्थ के लिए खुल्लेआम उन महिला खिलाड़ियों का मज़ाक़ बना रहा है जो महिला खिलाड़ी ख़ुद अपने आत्मसम्मान की लड़ाई लड़ रही हैं।
ऐसे खिलाड़ी से हम न्याय की क्या उम्मीद करेंगे?? https://t.co/aehqUCtCtU
- Bajrang Punia ���� (@BajrangPunia) February 27, 2023
The use of the male pronoun and the specification that it's an athlete makes guessing the identity of the person pretty easy, but that's not the issue here. If the complainants are so vocal about the integrity of the authorities investigating their complaints, what do we make of anything that comes out of the investigation?
A fortnight ago, we wrote that questions linger and that the sport remains in limbo. With almost a fortnight to go till the new deadline... the same questions continue to linger. The sport remains in limbo. In this battle of the WFI, the national team of India, and the government of India, they keep forgetting the key word in all their names: India.
Right now India has no clue what's happening, and that looks unlikely to change in the near future.