The Indian Wrestler’s protest has been a burning issue in the sports scene for quite some time now. Top Indian wrestlers, namely – Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat, have been the frontrunners in these protests. The protest is based on the alleged sexual harassment of female athletes by Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) federation members.
However, with no action being taken in favour of athletes and no strict action against the perpetrators, this led to the protests being carried out once again.
While the protests have been a hot topic for discussion and debate, it is also vital to look into the laws in place for athletes in the country, instances of sexual harassment in other countries, and what India can look to implement from the same.
The wrestlers have been voicing out for six months, demanding action from the law enforcers, courts, and local and national authorities. Occupying buildings, holding marches to demand a thorough investigation, and making Indian wrestling a safer environment for women has been a constant.
There has been some positive news for the wrestlers that the charges against them for their Delhi rallies would be dropped, and a planned investigation is to take place. While that has brought the protests to a temporary halt with hope of progress, here is what you need to know!
What you need to know!
There exist certain associations responsible for governing and developing sports in India, with legal measures and laws in place for the same.
Sports Law and Welfare Association of India: The Sports Law and Welfare Association of India, a professional non-profit organization, functions at the national level. It promotes the ethical practice of Sports Law in India. It looks into issues such as the regulation of sports governing bodies, disputes, and other related matters. The Association creates a forum for lawyers representing athletes, teams, leagues, conferences, etc., that work in organizations affiliated with the Olympics and amateur sports.
Sports Authority of India: The Sports Authority of India (SAI) is an apex body that was set up in 1982 by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs. SAI lays down provisions for youth to channel themselves at excelling in sports. It is responsible for the development of sports infrastructure, training, coaching, and talent identification programs in India. It works closely with various sports federations and provides support to athletes at different levels.
Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports: The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is the central government body responsible for formulating policies and regulations related to sports and athletes. It oversees the overall development and promotion of sports in the country.
National Sports Development Code of India (NSDCI): The NSDCI is a set of guidelines and regulations issued by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. It provides a framework for the governance and management of national sports federations, including their election processes, financial management, and transparency requirements.
Anti-Doping Regulations: India is a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code, and the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) is responsible for implementing and enforcing anti-doping regulations in the country. Athletes are subject to anti-doping testing and must adhere to the prohibited substances and methods as outlined by WADA.
The Indian government has taken several steps for the welfare and protection of athletes. Initiatives like the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), Khelo India, and sports scholarships provide financial assistance and support to talented athletes. The government has also focused on creating better sports infrastructure and promoting sports science and medicine.
However, more can be done to improve athlete welfare. The government can enhance the implementation and enforcement of anti-doping measures, strengthen athlete support systems, establish an independent athlete welfare commission, ensure timely disbursal of financial support, and prioritize mental health support for athletes. Additionally, measures to address issues like age fraud and ensure transparent selection processes are crucial.
Instances of sexual harassment of female athletes across the globe
Incidents related to sexual harassment of female athletes have unfortunately occurred in various countries around the world. Here are a few examples.
USA Gymnastics Sexual Abuse Scandal (United States, 2016-present): The USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal refers to a series of allegations and revelations regarding the sexual abuse of gymnasts by Larry Nassar, a former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and a physician at Michigan State University.
The scandal came to light in 2016 and has since unfolded as one of the largest sexual abuse scandals in the history of sports.
In the aftermath of the scandal, several high-profile resignations and changes occurred within USA Gymnastics.
USA Gymnastics implemented various policies and programs to enhance athlete safety. This includes mandatory reporting of abuse allegations, the appointment of a SafeSport Director, and the creation of an Athlete Assistance Fund to provide counselling and support services to survivors.
The scandal also prompted discussions about the culture of elite gymnastics and the need for better safeguards to protect young athletes.
Australian Women's Football Team Allegations (Australia, 2019): Members of the Australian national women's football team, the Matildas, made allegations of a toxic culture within the team, including incidents of sexual harassment and bullying.
The Football Federation Australia (FFA) implemented a Respect and Responsibility Framework to address cultural issues within the sport. It also implemented additional player support systems, including access to psychologists, counselling services, and welfare officers.
They further developed and strengthened safeguarding policies, including anti-harassment and anti-discrimination measures. Educational programs and workshops on respectful behaviour, consent, and appropriate boundaries were also introduced to promote a safe and inclusive environment.
What can India implement from how other countries dealt with these instances?
Countries have implemented a range of measures to address and prevent incidents of sexual harassment and abuse in sports. These measures include the strengthening of policies and reporting mechanisms, with revised sports policies explicitly addressing such issues and the establishment of confidential hotlines, online reporting platforms, and support networks.
Independent investigations have been conducted to uncover the extent of the problem, identify perpetrators, and scrutinize organizational failures. Athlete safeguarding and education have been prioritized, with educational programs and workshops raising awareness about sexual harassment, abuse, consent, and boundaries, as well as informing athletes about their rights and reporting procedures.
Support systems for survivors, including counselling services, legal assistance, and helplines, have been established. Stricter background checks and screening processes have been implemented to prevent individuals with a history of misconduct from working with athletes. Legislative changes have been introduced or amended to impose harsher penalties on offenders and enhance legal protections for athletes.
Countries also aim to foster a cultural shift by raising awareness, promoting a supportive and inclusive environment, and challenging harmful attitudes and behaviours. These efforts are ongoing and adaptable as countries strive for a safer and more secure sporting environment for athletes.
Rishab is an aspiring sports journalist, currently pursuing his master’s in multimedia journalism at Christ University, Bangalore. Having previously worked with various organizations such as TheNewsMinute, TimesNetwork, DeccanHerald, and Sportskeeda, he is an avid sports enthusiast.