Wrestling Wars: How Athletes United Against Leadership Change In WFI

India, known for its prowess in sports, is now grappling with a crisis that transcends the boundaries of the wrestling mat. Ace wrestler Sakshi Malik takes centre stage, seeking solace in a sport tainted by allegations and unanswered pleas.

Oshi Saxena
New Update
sakshi malik

Image Credits: PTI/Vijay Verma

With the recent leadership transition within the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), a seismic ripple of discontent has engulfed the sports fraternity. Sakshi Malik, during a live television interview, expressed her dismay over Sanjay Singh's victory, stating, "If Brij Bhushan Singh’s business partner and a close aide is elected the president of WFI, I  quit wrestling." India's beloved boxing champion, Vijender Singh and many athletes within the fraternity stand tall, throwing their weight behind ace wrestler Sakshi Malik in her battle against the former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.


This ongoing support stems from the controversial election wherein Sanjay Singh, a close confidant of the former WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, clinched victory, sparking outrage and prompting Malik to announce her departure from the sport. Allegations of sexual harassment against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh by Malik and her fellow athletes had painted a grim picture in the beginning of 2023, and the failure to address these claims laid the foundation for a seismic shift in the landscape of Indian wrestling.

A Shift in Power

The WFI elections unfolded with a twist that sent shockwaves through the sports community. Sanjay Singh, a longtime confidant of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, emerged victorious, claiming 40 out of 47 votes. This abrupt turn of events led to Sakshee Malikkh's decision to step away from the sport she had graced with her talent.

Accusations of sexual harassment against outgoing chief Brij Bhushan added a layer of complexity to the elections. Sanjay Singh's close association with Brij Bhushan and affiliation with the RSS and most importantly Brij Bhushan's recent statement after elections, "dabdaba tha, dabdaba rahega," hints at a continuation of influence, raising questions about the extent of Brij Bhushan's continued influence within the WFI.

Discrimination and Disappointment

The news of Sakshi Malik, a celebrated Olympic bronze medalist, abruptly announcing her retirement following the election results has sent shockwaves through the wrestling fraternity.


Sudesh Devi, Sakshee's mother, expressed profound disappointment, stating that the assurance from the Union government regarding Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh's influence not extending to the WFI had been betrayed. 

"It was disheartening to witness that Sanjay Singh, a close aide of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, got elected, which means that the safety and security of women wrestlers would remain compromised," she said in a statement to TOI.

Sukhbir Malik, Sakshi's father, lamented the incident as a black day for women's wrestling.

"It is the death of dreams for several girls who adore Sakshi as their role model. If an internationally famed wrestler like Sakshi's voice is not heard, then it dashes the hope of aspiring women wrestlers." 

He emphasised the impact on young girls, suggesting that the failure to heed the voice of an internationally renowned wrestler like Sakshi would deter aspiring female wrestlers.

Anita Sheoran, a 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medalist who contested against Sanjay Singh, voiced concerns over the safety of women wrestlers.


She highlighted the potential deterrent effect on parents considering sending their daughters into the world of wrestling: "I think now parents would fear sending their daughters to wrestling because of the dominance of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh."

In a display of solidarity that reverberates through Indian sports history, Olympic gold medalist Vijender Singh steps into the arena of justice alongside Sakshee Malikkh. His voice, a powerful resonance of concern for the tarnished image of Indian sports, questions the very essence of fairness. 

Being a player, I can understand her pain. The only female medallist in wrestling demanded justice but she did not get it. Pained by this, she retired. The image of India in the whole world would increase or decrease?" Singh empathises, highlighting the injustice that led Malikkh to retire, leaving the entire sports industry disillusioned.

As the dust settles on the WFI elections, the disparity between genders in Haryana becomes a stark reality. Vijender Singh's poignant query resonates: "The parents of the daughters would be concerned that if an Olympic medallist is not given justice, how will we get it? "

The disappointment echoes through the sentiments of Commonwealth Games gold medalist Anita Sheoran, who, despite being the choice of protesting wrestlers for the WFI president post, secured only seven votes.

The wrestling community's disappointment deepens as stalwarts like Vinesh Phogat express their anguish: "Now that Sanjay Singh has been elected chief of the federation, women wrestlers will continue to face harassment."


As the wrestling community grapples with the outcome, political figures like Randeep Surjewala criticise the government's silence on the plight of female wrestlers. The victory of Sanjay Singh is labelled an 'atrocity' against not only the wrestlers but all sportsmen in the country, emphasising the broader impact of the election results.

January Protests and Broken Promises

The journey to justice began in January, with the wrestlers staging a massive protest at Jantar Mantar, accusing Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexual harassment. The government's promise of a probe and assurances that no aide or relative of Singh would contest the next polls now ring hollow in the wake of Sanjay Singh's controversial election.

The Road Ahead

The new executive council's election marks a pivotal moment for Indian wrestling, as it potentially lifts the ban imposed by the United World Wrestling (UWW) on WFI. The resumption of wrestling events within 10 days, as indicated by the new leadership. However, criticism looms over the absence of women in key leadership positions and highlights the challenges faced by women in the male-dominated realm of wrestling administration.

The WFI elections have not only marked a shift in leadership but have also cast a shadow over the future of women's wrestling in India. The dreams of aspiring young talents, like Sakshi Malik, have been abruptly crushed, and the concerns raised by the wrestling community about the compromised safety of women athletes remain unanswered.

Personal views expressed by the author are their own

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