Indian Olympic Association president PT Usha, who recently faced criticism for being ‘insensitive’ towards the protesting wrestlers, told them that she was first an athlete and then an administrator.
New Delhi: Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president PT Usha on Wednesday met the protesting wrestlers at Jantar Mantar in the national capital and assured the grapplers — who have been staging a sit-in since April 23 over allegations of sexual harassment against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh — of her support. Former sprinter Usha’s assurance comes days after she had come down heavily on the wrestlers for resuming their protest instead of approaching the IOA for their issues. She had also said that the wrestlers should have shown some ‘discipline’ and that they had ‘tarnished’ the country’s image by hitting the streets, a comment that several people said was ‘insensitive’ towards the protesting athletes.
PT Usha, who spent around one hour with the wrestlers at the protest site, left without speaking with the media but Tokyo Games bronze medallist Bajrang Punia, who is also part of the demonstration, said that she has assured them of help.
“Initially when she said that, we felt very bad but then she said that her comments were misinterpreted. She said that she is first an athlete and then an administrator,” the news agency PTI quoted Punia as saying.
He added they told her they want ‘justice’ and that they don’t have a ‘fight’ with the government or anyone else.
“We are sitting here for the betterment of wrestling. If this issue is resolved and if the allegations (against WFI president) are proved then there should be legal action,” he said.
When asked if Usha had come with a solution from the Centre or from the IOA, Punia said, “Nothing of that sort… She only said that she is with us.”
Asked if he was satisfied following the meeting with Usha, he said that ‘if she is giving us assurance, I suppose she should fulfil that assurance’.
“…But we clarified to her that until and unless things are not okay and we get justice, of which we are very hopeful, this protest will continue,” Punia said.
Earlier last week, PT Usha had reacted to the wrestlers’ resumption of protest and had said, “Thoda toh discipline hona chahiye (there should be some discipline).
“Instead of coming to us, they have gone straight to the streets. It’s not good for the sport,” she said.
IOA acting CEO Kalyan Chaubey had said, “IOA President Dr PT Usha would like to say that this kind of agitation is not good for the country’s image. India has a good reputation globally. This negative publicity is not good for the country.”
Subsequently, Usha was criticised for not understanding the wrestlers’ point of view despite being a former athlete and a woman herself.
It is notable that the protesters have been demanding criminal action against WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP, for the alleged sexual harassment and intimidation of seven female wrestlers, including a minor.