Wrestlers’ protest: ‘Dismayed’ Kumble and ‘saddened’ Uthappa call for quick resolution


Anil Kumble and Robin Uthappa are among just a handful of cricketers who have expressed their anguish at prominent Indian wrestlers being “manhandled” by the police in Delhi, India’s national capital.

Tweeting on Tuesday, two days after disturbing images of Vinesh Phogat, among other wrestlers, being dragged away from the site of their protest in central Delhi emerged, Kumble said, “Dismayed to hear about what transpired on the 28th of May with our wrestlers being manhandled. Anything can be resolved through proper dialogue. Hoping for a resolution at the earliest.”

A day later, on Wednesday, Uthappa said he was “saddened” by the developments, and that he was “certain there is a better way to have this addressed in a peaceful manner”.

Delhi Police acted against the wrestlers when they breached the security barriers and started to march towards the new parliament building, which was being inaugurated by Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, at the time. The protesters were pushed into buses and taken away, and police personnel cleared the protest site – not far from the parliament building not long after.

Apart from Kumble and Uthappa, there was a message from Irfan Pathan, who tweeted “I’m so sad to see the visuals of our Athletes” on Sunday night itself. And from Manoj Tiwary, now a Member of the Legislative Assembly in West Bengal, who offered his support to the wrestlers.

The tweets from Kumble, Irfan and Tiwary came around the time of the IPL 2023 final, which Chennai Super Kings won off the last ball against Gujarat Titans.

The morning after the final was completed – after rain in Ahmedabad caused long delays over two days – Sakshi Malik had even tweeted out a jibe of sorts directed at the Indian cricket community.

Not long after that, Malik, Phogat and Bajrang Punia made public statements saying that they would be immersing their medals, earned at competitions around the world including the Olympic Games and the World Championships, into the River Ganga, something they have since opted against.

The wrestlers’ protest started in January.

They have alleged that Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the Indian wrestling federation chief, sexually abused and exploited women wrestlers – including a minor – over the past decade. That was after Delhi Police agreed to investigate the charges against Singh a week after the complaint was first filed and only after the wrestlers moved the Supreme Court for action. But the wrestlers’ larger mission has been to remove Singh from his position, and to draw attention to the charges against him.

Will they ever get justice,” Kapil had asked at the time in an Instagram post with a photograph of Phogat, Punia and Malik – the latter two Olympic medalists – who have been the faces of the protest. They were part of a group of 30-odd wrestlers at Jantar Mantar in January, too, when they made public the allegations against Singh, a member of parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

“You do come forward to congratulate us when we win something. Even the cricketers tweet when that happens. Abhi kya ho gaya [What has happened now]? Are you so afraid of the system? Or maybe there’s something fishy going on there too?”

Vinesh Phogat, on April 28

Following that, the union sports ministry, of which former BCCI president Anurag Thakur is the man in charge, tasked its oversight committee to investigate the matter and submit the findings by February. The committee included, among others, boxer MC Mary Kom and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, both Olympic Games medallists (Mary Kom is also a former member of parliament). Reports say that the findings of the oversight committee have not been made available to the wrestlers.

Support for the wrestlers from the cricket community had been extremely limited all along, and Phogat had even issued a plea of sorts to the Indian cricket community, asking why they had been silent on the plight of their fellow sportspersons.

“The entire country worships cricket but not even a single cricketer has spoken up,” the Indian Express quoted Phogat as saying. “We aren’t saying that you speak in our favour, but at least put up a neutral message and say there should be justice for whichever party. This is what pains me… Be it cricketers, badminton players, athletics, boxing…

“It’s not like we don’t have big athletes in our country. There are cricketers… During the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, they showed their support. Don’t we deserve even that much?

“You do come forward to congratulate us when we win something. Even the cricketers tweet when that happens. Abhi kya ho gaya [What has happened now]? Are you so afraid of the system? Or maybe there’s something fishy going on there too?”

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