IOA athletes union members complain about lack of support to wrestlers

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Athletes Commission – a 10-member body formed last November to be the voice of athletes – on Saturday wanted to issue a public statement in support of the protesting wrestlers, but was stopped by a senior member of the body. It was, said two members of the body.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Sangeeta Phogat during a protest at Jantar Mantar.

The AC met for the second time since its inception on Saturday, although its president, boxing icon MC Mary Kom, was absent. The meeting was chaired by table tennis player Sharath Kamal, who is the vice-president.

Mary was also absent from their first meeting in January, said two AC members, who did not want to be identified.

“We were all on the same page. We agreed that the AC has failed the wrestlers to a great extent. Neither in January nor in April has there been a single statement acknowledging them.”

“So, it was decided that we will make a public statement in support of the wrestlers. The letter was drafted but before we could make it public, it was blocked,” said a member. The letter had pointed out the “lack of a proper institutional redressal mechanism” and urged the need to “put systems in place to regain the confidence of the athlete community”.

“The members of the IOA Athletes’ Commission are unanimous and deeply concerned that our colleagues from the athletes’ fraternity have made serious allegations against the national federation, WFI, ranging from sexual harassment, sports code violations and ethics complaints.”

A member who attended said, “Most of those who attended the meeting wanted the statement to be issued, but only six members were present, it was not actually a majority of the AC.”

Besides Mary and Sharath, the members of the commission are Gagan Narang, Om Prakash Karhana, Shiv Keshavan, Bajrang Lal, PV Sindhu, Bhavani Devi, Rani Rampal and Mirabai Chanu. Ex-officio members Abhinav Bindra and Sardar Singh did not attend.

Mary Kom, the head of the Union Sports Ministry’s monitoring committee that submitted the inquiry report into sexual harassment allegations, attended the PC Chandra award function in Kolkata on Sunday. He did not comment when asked on the wrestling controversy.

Some members of the IOA athletes’ association, however, felt disappointed that it did not support the protesting wrestlers. In January, during the first phase of the protest, at least one AC member reportedly wanted to visit the wrestlers at Jantar Mantar to express solidarity, but was dissuaded by another member of the committee.

“He was told that the AC should present a united front in public and avoid personal visits in such situations,” said a member. “Disappointment and shock at (IOA president) PT Usha’s comments as well. The general consensus was that such a statement should not have come from the IOA President.

On Saturday, with the commission about to take its first public stance in support of the wrestlers, members invoked a confidentiality clause — section 8.9 of the Athletes’ Commission rules — to stop them.

“No document, information, discussion and decision taken at a meeting of the Commission or otherwise exchanged or agreed upon in connection with the work of the Commission shall be disclosed to any person before the CEO and the Executive Council of the IOA,” Block states.

Commenting on AC’s inaction as a member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Bindra said, “As athlete representatives, it is our duty and our moral obligation to do whatever we can for the betterment and safety of the community Do that and, importantly, ensure that athletes’ voices are heard. To achieve this, athlete commissions must be able to communicate effectively with the wider community.

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