United World Wrestling (UWW), the international governing body of the sport has indefinitely suspended the membership of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) membership with immediate effect today.
The move comes after the federation’s failure to conduct elections on time. WFI had scheduled the elections in June 2023, but eventually postponed following controversies. This means that Indian wrestlers will not be able to compete in the upcoming Olympic qualifying World Wrestling Championships under the Indian flag, and instead will have to participate as ‘neutral athletes’. Also, if an Indian athlete were to make it to the winner’s podium, the national anthem would not be played. The wrestlers, though, can compete under the Indian flag at the Asian Games, starting September 23 in Hangzhou, since it’s the Indian Olympic Association that has sent entries and not the WFI.
The WFI faced suspension first in January and then again in May after Indian wrestlers protested against its functioning and alleged its then president and Bharatiya Janata Party MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh sexually harassed female wrestlers. India’s top wrestlers, including Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, protested in New Delhi for months earlier this year, before the police detained them for initiating a protest march and cleared out their site near Jantar Mantar. The IOA then constituted an ad-hoc committee led by Bhupender Singh Bajwa to manage the day-to-day affairs of WFI — and instructed them to hold fresh elections in 45 days which they’ve since delayed many times. Multiple sources report that the committee has failed to properly manage the issues at hand. The panel had scheduled the World Championships trials in Patiala on the 25th and 26th of August, but now the fate of these trials remains uncertain.
In June, when there had been widespread coverage of the wrestlers’ protest and the police’s manhandling and detention of wrestlers, the UWW had threatened to suspend India’s membership to protest the treatment of athletes. At the time, it had given the WFI a 45-day deadline to hold elections, and said that “failing to do so may lead UWW to suspend the federation, thereby forcing the athletes to compete under a neutral flag.”
The Indian women’s team at the recent U-20 World Championship in Amman had won the team title for the first time in Indian wrestling history ahead of powerhouses like Japan and the USA.
Now the athletes from India who will have to participate under the Individual Neutral Athletes (AIN) designation will join those from Russia and Belarus who returned to international competition at the U-17 European Championships in Tirana (Albania) in June. UWW had banned the two countries due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.