Top India wrestlers to boycott competitions over alleged abuse

Top Indian wrestlers, including Olympic medallists and Commonwealth Games champions, announced a boycott of international competitions Thursday after one of them accused their federation chief and several coaches of sexually harassing athletes.

Dozens of wrestlers -- both male and female -- along with coaches and trainees mounted a second day of protests in New Delhi.

"All the women here at the protest, every one of them has been through something, some incident or the other has happened with every one of us," said triple Commonwealth Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat, one of India's most decorated women wrestlers.

"None of the athletes from this protest will participate in any national or international competitions until this is sorted," she added.

At a similar protest on Wednesday she accused Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh -- who is an MP for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party -- and several trainers of abuse.

"Women wrestlers have been sexually harassed at national camps by coaches and also the WFI president," Phogat said.

"I know at least 10 to 20 girls in the national camp who have come and told me their stories," she told reporters.

The allegations come months after the coach of the country's national cycling team was sacked following sexual harassment charges.

India is a deeply hierarchical society and Phogat said many wrestlers were intimidated into not coming forward because of their humble origins.

"They are scared because of their family background. They can't fight them because they are powerful."

"Wrestling is our only livelihood and they are not letting us do it. Our only option is to die. So might as well do good before dying," she added.

She did not state whether she was a victim herself.

- 'Ready to be hanged' -

Phogat was joined in her protests by Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia.

Punia, who is male, said Thursday: "The things that we faced, we don't want the future wrestlers of this country to face, that is why we are here protesting."

Malik earlier tweeted: "Athletes work hard to win medals for the country, but the federation has done nothing but let us down."

India's #MeToo movement gathered momentum in 2018 after a Bollywood actress accused a senior actor of sexual harassment.

Soon after, women from other backgrounds came forward with multiple allegations, including against a former government minister, but activists say there has been little fundamental change.

According to local media reports, Singh denied the allegations, saying he was "ready to be hanged" if even a single woman wrestler proved the sexual harassment charge.

India's sports ministry has asked the federation to respond to the allegations within 72 hours, reports said.

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