Table tennis great and vice-chairperson of IOA’s Athletes Commission Achanta Sharath Kamal says the ongoing protests by India’s wrestlers has underlined the need for an athletes’ body in all National Sports Federations (NSFs).
Wrestlers including Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik are sitting on a protest in the national capital since April 23, demanding the arrest of WFI chief and BJP MP Brish Bhushan Sharan Singh for alleged sexual harassment of seven wrestlers including a minor.
The Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) Athletes Commission (AC), which was formed last year, had met virtually on Saturday to discuss the wrestlers’ protest. Sharath, who was awarded the Khel Ratna last year for his exemplary performances in table tennis, especially at the Commonwealth Games last year, feels trust needs to be built between the AC and athletes for the latter to ask for help in times of need.
The wrestlers chose to hit the streets and did not approach the IOA, which was not taken well by president P T Usha. ”The AC had a meeting to discuss on several things like having a forum for the athletes on different topics, organising workshops and activities. The other important agenda was to talk to IOA on having athletes commissions in all NSF so we can strengthen athletes’ voices,” Sharath, who chaired the meeting in Mary Kom’s absence, told PTI.
”The athletes could not only need help in matters of sexual harassment, they should able to approach AC on any issue they are facing.
”We discussed the current issue with the wrestlers and we were unanimous in showing solidarity to the athletes first as they are on the streets fighting for justice. And currently the issue is up to the judiciary, it’s beyond the IOA and the IOA’s AC.” The AC’s silence on the protests was questioned but Sharath said AC issuing a statement in support of the wrestlers would not have made much of a difference when the matter had reached the apex court.
”Of course we stand with the wrestlers and we had said that at time of the protest in January but now the matter has reached the Supreme Court, it is beyond any of us. ”It is tough to see the wrestlers on the streets and as a fellow athlete and I hope the issue is resolved at the earliest. It also shows that we need to build trust with all our athletes so they can approach us in times of need,” said the 40-year-old. On Wednesday, IOA President PT Usha met the wrestlers at the protest site and assured the grapplers of her support, saying she was first an athlete and then an administrator.
She had earlier had come down heavily on the wrestlers for resuming their protest instead of approaching the IOA for their issues.