“I know at least 10 to 20 girls who came to the national camp and told their story,” Binesh Phogat told reporters.
Vinesh, who has won her three gold medals at her Games and is one of India’s most awarded wrestlers, her Phogat has been named after her federation chief and multiple coaches in multiple accused of sexually harassing an athlete.
Phogat made the claim at a protest rally in New Delhi on Wednesday, with the support of several other top wrestlers, both men and women.
She is responsible for the Indian Wrestling Federation (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is also a member of parliament for the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, and the coach, she told reporters.
“Female wrestlers have been sexually harassed by coaches and WFI presidents at national camps,” she said.
“I know at least 10 to 20 girls who came to the national camp and told their story,” she told reporters. The allegation comes months after the coach of the country’s national cycling team was fired for sexual harassment.
India is a highly hierarchical society, and Phogat said many wrestlers are afraid to come forward because of their humble origins.
“They are afraid because of their family background. You can’t fight them because they are powerful.”
“Wrestling is our only livelihood and they won’t let us do it. Our only option is to die. So it’s better to do good things before you die,” she added.
She does not claim to be a victim herself.
Her fellow wrestler and Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi Malik also joined the protest and supported her allegations.
“Athletes work hard to win medals for their country, but the federation has let us down.
The #MeToo movement in India gained momentum after a Bollywood actress accused a high-profile actor of sexual harassment in 2018. Women from diverse backgrounds were quick to file multiple allegations, including one against a former government minister, but activists say little has changed fundamentally.
According to local media reports, Singh denied the allegations and said he was “ready to be hanged” if even one wrestler proved a sexual harassment charge.
India’s Ministry of Sports has reportedly asked the federation to respond to the allegations within 72 hours.
Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Bajran Punia also joined the protest, accusing Singh of arbitrarily running the association.
“The association’s mission is to support athletes and meet their sporting needs. If there is a problem, it needs to be resolved,” he tweeted.
“But what if the Association itself causes trouble? Now we have to fight, we will not give in.”