Indian wrestler Vinesh Phogat penned an open letter to the Prime Minister of India, expressing her decision to return her national awards in protest of Sanjay Singh, a supporter of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, being elected as the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). The 29-year-old athlete, Vinesh Phogat from Haryana announced her intention to return both the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award, citing her disapproval of Sanjay Singh’s triumph in the recent WFI elections.
The announcement follows closely on the heels of Bajrang Punia, an Olympic bronze medallist and fellow wrestler, who recently relinquished his Padma Shri award for similar reasons. Adding to the surprise, Sakshi Malik, an Olympic and Commonwealth medallist, made a resounding statement during a press conference, revealing her decision to step away from the sport. This came in response to the outcome of the elections on December 21, where the Brij Bhushan loyalist triumphed over former wrestler Anita Sheoran.
मैं अपना मेजर ध्यानचंद खेल रत्न और अर्जुन अवार्ड वापस कर रही हूँ।
इस हालत में पहुँचाने के लिए ताकतवर का बहुत बहुत धन्यवाद 🙏 pic.twitter.com/KlhJzDPu9D
— Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) December 26, 2023
Punia, Phogat, and Malik emerged as prominent figures in the protests led by some of the country’s top wrestlers, starting in January 2023. The demonstrations were directed against the former WFI chief, Brij Bhushan Singh, who faced allegations of sexually harassing female wrestlers. Despite the outcry, the Sports Ministry took action by suspending the recently elected WFI body, led by Sanjay Singh. This decision came after the announcement to host the U15 and U20 nationals in Gonda, which was considered a stronghold for Brij Bhushan Singh. The ministry justified the suspension by citing a lack of transparency and failure to adhere to venue assignment protocols for the event.