WFI suspended by world body for failure to conduct elections

Former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (C). AFP via Getty Images

United World Wrestling (UWW), the world governing body for wrestling, has suspended the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) for not conducting its elections within the stipulated time. This means India's wrestlers will not be able to compete at the upcoming World Championships under the Indian flag.

The UWW released a statement on Thursday confirming the suspension, saying "United World Wrestling placed the Wrestling Federation of India under provisional suspension with immediate effect after the Indian body failed to hold an election in due course."

"The UWW Disciplinary Chamber decided on Wednesday that it had sufficient grounds to impose the provisional suspension on the body as the situation in the federation has prevailed for at least six months. The Chamber noted that the absence of a regularly elected president and a board does not comply with the UWW regulations and the conditions for membership."

"The wrestling affairs in India were run by an ad hoc body which was warned by UWW on July 3 about the possible suspension of the WFI should elections not be held in due course. Recently, the elective general assembly was postponed due to an unknown date, which led UWW to act according to the resolution of the UWW Bureau on June 27, 2023."

The suspension means that Indian wrestlers will have to compete as 'neutral athletes' under the 'UWW flag' at the Olympic-qualifying World Championships starting September 16, as the ad-hoc panel, led by Bhupender Singh Bajwa, did not honour the deadline for conducting the elections.

The wrestlers, though, can compete under the Indian flag the Asian Games, starting September 23 in Hangzhou, since it's the IOA which has sent entries and not the WFI.

The IOA had appointed the ad-hoc panel on April 27 and the committee was supposed to hold elections within 45 days. UWW had on April 28 warned that it could suspend the Indian federation if the deadline to hold elections was not honoured, and sent a follow-up warning on July 3rd as well.

The WFI elections have been delayed several times with multiple disgruntled and disaffiliated state bodies moving the court, seeking the right to participate in the polls.

Originally, the WFI was to hold elections on May 7, but the Sports Ministry had declared the process as null and void while asking IOA to form the ad-hoc panel. The Returning Officer had originally set July 11 as the date for WFI elections but the Assam association moved the Gauhati High Court and succeeded in getting a stay on the polls on June 25 and the next hearing was set for July 28.

However, the Andhra state association challenged the decision in the Supreme Court which quashed the Gauhati High Court decision on July 18, paving the way for the conduct of the polls.

The Returning officer then declared August 12 as the new poll date but a day before the elections, Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed the process on an application moved by Haryana Wrestling Association (HWA), which was led by Deepinder Singh Hooda before being suspended by WFI.

HWA had challenged the move to allow Haryana Amateur Wrestling Association to cast votes in the WFI polls. Now this case is also pending in the Supreme Court, and is likely to be heard on Friday.

Meanwhile, the trials for the Worlds are set to be held on August 25 and 26.

The UWW in its letter on April 28, which was also marked to IOA and the Sports Ministry, had reminded that it has already taken "a measure in this situation by reallocating the Asian Championship planned in New Delhi earlier this year." The Championship was moved out of the country due to the controversy surrounding the suspended former WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexually harassing several women wrestlers.