Indian wrestlers are now compelled to participate as 'neutral athletes' in the Olympic-qualifying World Championships that commence on 16 September.
This is because the United World Wrestling (UWW), the global governing body for wrestling, made the decision on Thursday (24 August) to suspend the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) indefinitely due to its failure to conduct timely elections.
This verdict delivers a significant setback to the sport within the nation, as India's wrestlers are now confronted with the prospect of competing under a neutral banner.
The WFI has been ensnared in controversy for the past several months, primarily concerning allegations of sexual harassment against its former chairman Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, as well as the extensive protests by India's top-tier wrestlers.
Back in April, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) took the initiative of establishing an ad hoc committee to oversee the operations of the wrestling federation.
Initially slated for June, the elections for India's Wrestling governing body have encountered persistent delays due to a succession of protests by Indian wrestlers and petitions from various state units. Intriguingly, the elections for a total of 15 positions within the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) were initially set for 12 August.
Four candidates, including Sanjay Singh, a close associate of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, submitted their nominations for the position of President of the governing body.
For other pivotal roles, SP Deshwal from Uttarakhand was nominated for the treasurer position, and Darshan Lal, representing Chandigarh Wrestling Body, emerged as a candidate for the general secretary position.
Returning to the matter of WFI's suspension, this marks the third instance in 2023 where the United World Wrestling has taken action against the federation.
WFI was first suspended in January, followed by a second suspension in May, when wrestlers in the country staged strong protests, alleging that the then-president Brij Bhushan had sexually harassed female wrestlers.
Presently, the day-to-day affairs at WFI are overseen by an ad-hoc committee established by the Indian Olympic Association, led by Bhupender Singh Bajwa.
Expressing deep concern over the situation in India, the UWW issued a statement in May, cautioning about the potential suspension if the 45-day deadline for elections wasn't adhered to.
"Failing to do so may lead UWW to suspend the federation, thereby forcing the athletes to compete under a neutral flag. It is reminded that UWW already took a measure in this situation by reallocating the Asian Championship planned in New Delhi earlier this year," the UWW stated in its May communication.
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