Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president and former athletics superstar PT Usha, on Thursday, said that the wrestlers should have approached the IOA earlier rather than taking to the streets against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and its president, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, whom the wrestlers accused of sexual harassment.
"IOA has a committee for sexual harassment, instead of going to the streets, they (the protesting wrestlers) could have come to us, but they did not come to IOA," Usha told the media.
"Wrestlers staging protests on the streets amounts to indiscipline. It is tarnishing the image of India," she added.
Shocked by her remarks, the protesting wrestlers, led by Olympians Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, and Sakshi Mallik, hit back at Usha, demanding respect for their movement to protect the future generation of female wrestlers from facing sexual harassment.
Amid the fight between wrestlers and WFI, let's take a look at who the legendary athlete is and how she got involved in this controversy.
Who is PT Usha?
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Who is Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the WFI chief in the eye of the storm?
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Born on June 27, 1964, in a small village in Kerala's Kozhikode district, PT Usha has been associated with Indian athletics since she was 15 years old. She is fondly nicknamed 'Payyoli Express' for her powerful sprinting ability and also 'Queen of Indian track-and-field'.
Her talent was spotted by athletics coach OM Nambiar, who began training her, and, after winning a slew of medals (mostly gold) at national-level events, she won silver at the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982.
She won her first international gold in the 400m at the 1983 Asian Championships in Kuwait and also picked up another 200m silver.
In the 1984 Olympics in the United States, she narrowly missed winning India's first medal in a track-and-field event after a photo-finish showed she finished fourth in the 400m hurdles by 1/100 second.
Between 1983 and 1998, PT Usha brought home 18 gold medals for India at international events, the last was in the 4x100m relay at the Asian Championships in Japan. She also won 13 silver medals and three bronze medals.
Among her accomplishments is participating in setting the national 4x100m relay record with Valdivel Jayalakshmi, Rachita Mistry and EB Shyla at the 1998 Asian Championships.
In addition to receiving honorary doctorates from the University of Calicut (2018), IIT Kanpur (2017), and Kannur University (2000), PT Usha was awarded the Padma Shri in 1985.
Besides being India's most celebrated sportspersons, she is also a member of the Rajya Sabha and currently the president of the IOA.
WFI vs wrestlers
Nearly a week ago, India’s top wrestlers resumed their protest at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, demanding that WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh be prosecuted.
The wrestlers – led by the likes of Rio Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi Malik, Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist Bajrang Punia, and Commonwealth Games champion Vinesh Phogat – have levelled allegations of sexual harassment against Singh. Subsequently, seven female wrestlers have lodged complaints against the WFI president. However, the Delhi Police, which has yet to file an FIR, has told the Supreme Court that it will do so by the end of the day today.
The wrestlers had first hit the streets in January, but withdrew their protest after the government asked Singh, who is also a Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Kaiserganj, to step aside for a few weeks while an oversight committee investigated the allegations.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the allegations in the wrestlers' petition were "serious". A day later, the Delhi Police informed the court that a preliminary investigation is necessary before the authorities file the case.
Ahead of Friday’s hearing in the Supreme Court, Sangeeta Phogat, national-ranked wrestler and Punia’s wife, asserted that the athletes will stay put at the site until Singh is punished, ANI reported.
On the other hand, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh denied the allegations against him, in a video message on Thursday and said that he will fight with all his might to prove his innocence.
"Friends, the day I reflect on my life, what I gained or lost, the day I feel I don’t have the strength to fight, the day I feel helpless, I won’t like to live a life like that," the wrestling body chief said. "Instead of living such a life, I would wish that death embraced me."