Decision to exempt Bajrang and Vinesh from trials is unfortunate, will hurt wrestling in country: Brij Bhushan

New Delhi:┬áThe decision to exempt Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat from the Asian Games trials is “unfortunate” and will hurt wrestling in India, outgoing WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is facing sexual harassment charges by women grapplers, said on Wednesday.

IOA’s ad-hoc panel on Tuesday handed direct Asian Games entries to Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, who were at the forefront of protest against Singh.

The junior wrestlers, especially the most-affected Antim Panghal and Sujeet Kalkal, have also slammed the panel and dragged it to the court, demanding a fair trial in all categories.

Singh, who is also a BJP MP, said they had ended the practice of giving exemptions to wrestlers because they realised that it was hurting the juniors.

“I am pretty anguished since the ad-hoc panel took this decision. It will hurt the sport of wrestling in this country. A lot of people have worked hard to lift this sport. The athletes, their parents, the fans of the sport, all have worked hard,” Singh told PTI in an exclusive interaction.

“Today, wrestling is one sport where Olympic medal is considered guaranteed. And the decision that these wrestlers will go to a competition like Asian Games, is an unfortunate one.” Singh, who is out on an interim bail and not eligible to contest the upcoming WFI elections due to the Sports Code guidelines, feels the protest launched by six wrestlers was motivated.

“When all this (protest) began (in January) I used to think why is it all happening? I had recited a poem back then (on social media),” he said and recited the poem again emphasising that he chose to side with the juniors and thus invited trouble for himself.

The 19-year-old Panghal along with several other wrestlers, their families and elders hit the streets in Hisar to protest against the ad-hoc panel’s decision. “I am remembering this poem again today because things are becoming crystal clear.” When countered that even under his tenure as President, the WFI had exempted Vinesh, Bajrang and others from trials for the 2018 Asian Games and that even during the 2022 CWG trials, the same wrestlers were given direct semifinal entries, he admitted it was a mistake.

“We did not send these wrestlers (to Commonwealth Games) directly, though we gave them direct semifinal berths. We realised later that perhaps it is not right and that’s exactly why we discussed this issue at our Executive Committee, took advise of the coaches, studied the rules from other nations and passed the new rules in General Body Meeting that such exemptions will be not be given to any wrestler in any situation.” “I myself did not make this rule, unilaterally. It was widely discussed and then a decision was taken.” The WFI had passed the resolution on August 25 at its General Body Meeting in Rohtak, last year.

Singh chose not to speak when asked what he thinks of presence of Gian Singh and Ashok Garg as technical experts in the IOA ad-hoc panel.

“Now I would request you to let this go. How well these coaches are well-versed with modern-day wrestling is another topic. I don’t talk to the media now but some issues were rankling me, so I spoke today (on exemption given to wrestlers),” he said.