Wrestlers return without immersing medals in Ganga

The wrestlers left without speaking with the media.

Haridwar: On a drama-filled Tuesday, some of India’s best wrestlers accompanied by hundreds of supporters gathered here on the banks of the Ganga, threatening to immerse their World and Olympic medals in the holy river but refrained after being convinced by Khap and farmer leaders who sought five days to address their grievances.

Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Asian Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat arrived at Har ki Pauri to protest the inaction against outgoing Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has allegedly sexually harassed several women wrestlers.

Sakshi, Vinesh and her cousin Sangeeta were seen sobbing as their husbands tried to console them, even as scores of their supporters formed a cordon around them.

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The wrestlers stood for about 20 minutes in silence after reaching Har ki Pauri. They then sat on the banks of the river holding their medals and looking distressed.

Bajrang joined them after 40 minutes. Sombir Rathi, husband of Vinesh, was holding the Asian Games medals won by her wife. Sakshi was holding tightly the framed Olympic bronze medal she had won in 2016 in Rio.

The whole episode was reminiscent of the 1960 incident when the legendary Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio river to protest racial segregation in the US.

However, after spending an hour and 45 minutes, they returned after several khap and political leaders urged them not to take such an extreme step.

As the deadline for the immersion of the medals drew closer, senior farmer leaders Sham Singh Malik and Naresh Tikait sought five days’ time from the wrestlers to resolve the issue.

“The khap leaders put their turbans before us and said ‘do not lose hope’. Keep the dignity of the turban and return. So we decided to wait,” said wrestler Jitender Kinha, who has been a part of the protesting group.

There were chaotic scenes at the Har ki Pauri as khap and farmer leaders broke the human chain of supporters to reach out to the wrestlers, even as thousands of devotees, who had gathered on the occasion of Ganga Dussehra, looked baffled as commotion reigned supreme.

The wrestlers left without speaking with the media.

Several other khap leaders and Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann also came out in support of the wrestlers but urged them to show restraint.

“The wrestlers have said they will immerse their medals in the Ganga river. We request that these medals are the result of their hard work, sacrifices of their families and support from society… they should not take this step.

“It is unfortunate that those who represented the nation in top international tournaments are forced to take such decisions. The government should have some shame and give justice to them,” Khap leader Balwant Nambardar said.

In his tweet, the Punjab CM said, “After being fed up with the Central government, the international medal-winning wrestlers going to Haridwar to immerse their medals in Ganga is very shameful for the country.”

Close on the heels of the wrestlers announcing they would immerse their medals, sports ministry sources said the trophies and medals also belonged to the country.

“The medal that the wrestlers have won do not belong to them alone, but to the country, because they played under the Indian flag and their medals have been won with the efforts of not just the wrestlers’ hard work but also the hard work of multiple people like their coaches, support staff,” a ministry source told PTI.

He added that crores of taxpayers’ money had gone into their training.

“More than 150 crores have been spent in the last 5 years in wrestling just so that the wrestlers can get the best training, coaching and infrastructure facilities. They have been sent for foreign training, trained at national camps and competed internationally to hone their skills and win medals in Olympic, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. This money belongs to taxpayers.”

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Press Trust of India

Press Trust of India (PTI) is India’s premier news agency, having a reach as vast as the Indian Railways. It employs more than 400 journalists and 500 stringers to cover almost every district and small town in India.
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