“I am dejected, I quit wrestling” were the words that Sakshi Malik, India’s only Olympic medal winning woman wrestler, said in Delhi on Thursday, December 21, upon receiving the news of the election of Sanjay Singh as the new president of the Wrestler's Federation of India (WFI). Sakshi, who was among the wrestlers who raised their voices against then WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh this January, was in tears as she put her wrestling shoes on the table towards the end of her address to the media, saying, “I will not be competing in wrestling anymore.” Meanwhile, crackers were burst outside Brij Bhushan’s residence to celebrate the victory in the election.
A crying Sakshi left the press conference with her head bowed down. The Olympian’s actions reflected the agony and helplessness that she and other wrestlers experienced as the very forums from which they expected justice turned cruelly against them. As she pointed out, “The government’s commitment to [the wrestlers] has not been fulfilled.”
Sanjay’s election and Sakshi’s quitting have come close to a year after the wrestlers had protested in the very same city demanding action against the then WFI president Brij Bhushan, who has been accused of sexual harassment by six women wrestlers. It is no secret that the newly elected president Sanjay is a close aide of Brij Bhushan, who in addition to facing accusations of sexual harassment, faced allegations of physical abuse, dictatorial functioning, and financial irregularities in the management of WFI. The protesting wrestlers had also accused him of running a ‘fiefdom’ at WFI. In a report submitted to the additional magistrate in September 2023, the Delhi Police said that Brij Bhushan Singh used every opportunity to harass wrestlers.
In the press meet, the Rio Olympics bronze medalist said that it took several years for the wrestlers to gather the courage to speak out about the sexual harassment by Brij Bhushan. “The result is in front of you all. The person who has been made the president now is the equivalent of a son to Brij Bhushan, his right-hand man. The government’s commitment to us has not been fulfilled, we had demanded a female president.”
Following the press meet, Sakshi penned a note on social media. “Whatever awards I have won for the country, I have won with your blessings, I will always be grateful to all you countrymen. Goodbye to wrestling,” Sakshi said, sharing a clip from the press meet.