How Sakshi Malik's Wrestling Boots Down Sparked Change In WFI Leadership?

The Sports Ministry suspended WFI on December 24, alleging rule breaches. Sakshi Malik's retirement amid the Brij Bhushan to Sanjay Singh transition, coupled with Padma Shri returns by Virender Singh Yadav and Bajrang Punia, prompts swift ministry action.

Oshi Saxena
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(Image Credit: The Indian Express/Abhinav Saha)

The year 2023 is known to be marked by a relentless pursuit of justice. Wrestlers in our country have grappled not only with opponents on the mat but also with the shadows of injustice cast by ousted WFI chief Brij Bhushan Singh. Accused of sexual harassment, the wrestling community's battle has been full of vigour. Now, the recently elected Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) body, led by Sanjay Singh, finds itself under the piercing gaze of the Sports Ministry. The suspension, declared on December 24, follows a 'hasty' decision to host nationals in Gonda, a stronghold intricately tied to Brij Bhushan Singh's influence


The controversial election, allegedly swayed by BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, prompted Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik to announce her retirement from wrestling following the controversial election of Sanjay Singh as the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). With a poignant gesture, she placed her wrestling shoes on the table during the announcement—a symbolic act marking the end of a remarkable era in her illustrious career. Adding fuel to the fire, wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Virender Singh Yadav, have also publicly announced their intent to return the Padma Shri—an honour bestowed upon them for their exceptional contributions to the sport.

Ministry's Decisive Action

The ministry pointed out that the decision to conduct the junior national competitions, announced by President Sanjay Kumar Singh on December 21, lacked the necessary procedural groundwork. According to the WFI constitution, specifically Article XI under 'Notices and Quorum for Meetings,' a minimum notice period of 15 clear days is mandatory for an Executive Committee meeting. Furthermore, the ministry emphasised that even for an emergency EC meeting, a minimum notice period of 7 clear days is required.

The ministry's decision was rooted in the belief that the WFI body had deviated from established norms and displayed a lack of adherence to due process. It stressed that such decisions, involving national competitions, should be taken by the Executive Committee, with proper agendas placed for consideration. The ministry highlights the importance of transparency and governance norms to ensure fair play, transparency, and accountability. Simultaneously, the Union Sports Ministry reportedly urged the Indian Olympic Association to form an ad hoc committee to oversee WFI affairs.

The Sports Ministry also raised concerns about the new WFI body being seemingly controlled by former office-bearers, against whom serious allegations of sexual harassment had been made. 

"The business of the Federation is being run from the premises controlled by former office bearers. Which is also alleged premises wherein sexual harassment of the players have been alleged and present the court is hearing the matter."


The suspension echoes previous controversies surrounding sexual harassment allegations against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, leading to his removal in March. The wrestlers' protests and subsequent assurances from government officials played a pivotal role in reshaping the WFI leadership. Sanjay Singh's victory, celebrated at Brij Bhushan's residence, raised questions about the continuity of influence, prompting concerns among top wrestlers like Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia.

The Electoral Upheaval

Sanjay Singh, a close associate of Brij Bhushan, assumed the mantle of WFI president after securing a resounding victory in the elections with a 40-7 vote tally against Anita Sheoran. Alongside Singh, Prem Chand Lochab, from the opposing faction seemingly supported by the protesting wrestlers, clinched the position of secretary-general.

In response to the suspension, sources from Sanjay Singh's camp indicated their intention to pursue legal action. They asserted their readiness to counter the decision legally, highlighting that their legal team was actively working on the matter.

The Impact of the Wrestler's Unyielding Protest Voice


"In the end, we slept for 40 days on the roads, but I'd like to thank the several people of our country who came to support us during the protests earlier this year. If Brij Bhushan Singh's business partner and a close aide is elected as the president of WFI, I quit wrestling. Malik boldly proclaimed during the press conference

Addressing the media after the election results, Malik expressed disappointment, stating, "We gathered a lot of courage for this fight against the WFI President (Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh). But today, his right hand (referring to Sanjay Singh) has been elected as the new WFI President. We had demanded a woman be made president, but that has not been fulfilled."

Sangeeta Phogat, another prominent wrestler, echoed Malik's sentiment, expressing concern that women wrestlers would now face exploitation.

She stated, "It's unfortunate that such people are getting elected to such positions in the country. Now, girls will be harassed again. It's sad that even after fighting against it, we couldn't bring about any changes. I don't know how to get justice in our own country."


In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bajrang Punia expressed his deep concern over the recent developments within the Wrestling Federation of India. The wrestler, known for his prowess on the mat, highlighted the need for transparency and fair practices within the governing body.

"We all spent the night in tears. We did not understand what to do, or where to go. The government has given us a lot. I was conferred with the Padma Shri in 2019. I also received the Arjuna, Khel Ratna award. When I got these awards, I was on cloud nine. But today the sadness weighs more. And the reason is a woman wrestler left the sport because of her security. Sports have empowered our women athletes, changed their lives. All credit to the first-generation women athletes. The situation is such that the women who could have been the brand ambassadors of beti bachao, beti padhao are now taking back their steps in their sports. And we 'awarded' wrestlers could not do anything. I can't live my life as a Padma Shri awardee while our women wrestlers are insulted. Hence I return my award to you."

This bold move by Punia is not just a personal stance but reflects a broader sentiment within the wrestling community.

Virender Singh Yadav, a gold medalist from the 2005 Summer Deaflympics, also took to social media to announce his decision. In a statement, he expressed solidarity with Bajrang Punia's protest and emphasized the need for top players, including cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar and javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, to voice their opinions on the matter.

The wrestling champion stated, "I will also return the Padma Shri for my sister and the daughter of the country, Honorable Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi Sir. I am proud of your daughter and my sister, Sakshi Malik."

The backdrop of this suspension cannot be divorced from the earlier controversies surrounding Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, where top wrestlers raised issues of sexual harassment. The suspension comes at a critical juncture, with the ministry asserting the need for adherence to governance norms for fair play, transparency, and accountability. The integrity of the sporting body is at stake, and the repercussions of this suspension will undoubtedly echo through India's wrestling community.

Personal views expressed by the author are their own

Sakshi Malik Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh Olympic Medalist WFI chief elections