Wrestlers' protest: 1983 World Cup winners 'distressed and disturbed' at developments

Security personnel in a scuffle with wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Sangeeta Phogat Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The surviving members of India's 1983 World Cup-winning cricket team - with the exception of Roger Binny, currently the BCCI president - have said they were "distressed and disturbed" at leading Indian wrestlers being "manhandled" by security personnel in the national capital of Delhi earlier this week.

In a statement, the squad members also said they are "most concerned" that that athletes might be "dumping" their medals in the Ganga river as part of their ongoing protest against the non-action against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, against whom the wrestlers have levelled accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation.

"We are distressed and disturbed at the unseemly visuals of our champion wrestlers being manhandled," a statement released to PTI on Friday by members of the squad said. "We are also most concerned that they are thinking of dumping their hard earned medals into river Ganga.

"Those medals have involved years of effort, sacrifice, determination, and grit and are not only their own but the nation's pride and joy. We urge them not to take any hasty decision in this matter and also fervently hope that their grievances are heard and resolved quickly. Let the law of the land prevail."

Kapil Dev, the captain of that side, said that "the whole of 1983 team stands by the statement we have issued". But Binny, the highest wicket-taker in the tournament, later clarified that he was not among the signatories.

"Contrary to some media reports, I would like to clarify that I have not issued any statement regarding the current situation of the wrestlers' protest," Binny told PTI. "I believe that the competent authorities are working on to resolve the issue. As a former cricketer, I believe that sports should not be mixed with politics."


The update came two days after Anil Kumble, Robin Uthappa and a few other former cricketers expressed their anguish at the situation.

On Sunday, images of Vinesh Phogat, among other wrestlers, being dragged away from the site of their protest in central Delhi had emerged. Delhi Police acted against the wrestlers - whose protest has been led, since January, by Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, the last two of whom are Olympic Games medallists - when they breached the security barriers and started to march towards the new parliament building, which was being inaugurated by Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, at the time. The protesters were pushed into buses and taken away, and police personnel cleared the protest site - not far from the parliament building not long after.

Apart from Kumble and Uthappa, there was a message from Irfan Pathan, who tweeted "I'm so sad to see the visuals of our Athletes" on Sunday night itself, and from Manoj Tiwary, now a Member of the Legislative Assembly in West Bengal, who offered his support to the wrestlers.

The tweets from Kumble, Irfan and Tiwary came around the time of the IPL 2023 final, which Chennai Super Kings won off the last ball against Gujarat Titans.

The morning after the final was completed - after rain in Ahmedabad caused long delays over two days - Malik had even tweeted out a jibe of sorts directed at the Indian cricket community.

"You do come forward to congratulate us when we win something. Even the cricketers tweet when that happens. Abhi kya ho gaya [What has happened now]? Are you so afraid of the system? Or maybe there's something fishy going on there too?" Vinesh Phogat, on April 28

Not long after that, Malik, Phogat and Punia made public statements saying that they would be immersing their medals, earned at competitions around the world including the Olympic Games and the World Championships, into the River Ganga, which they have since opted against.

The wrestlers' protest started in January.

They have alleged that Singh sexually abused and exploited women wrestlers - including a minor - over the past decade. That was after Delhi Police agreed to investigate the charges against Singh a week after the complaint was first filed and only after the wrestlers moved the Supreme Court for action. But the wrestlers' larger mission has been to remove Singh from his position, and to draw attention to the charges against him.

Just around a month ago, Kapil Dev, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Shikha Pandey were among the cricketers to speak up about the protests being carried out by India's top wrestlers demanding Singh's dismissal.

"Will they ever get justice," Kapil had asked at the time in an Instagram post with a photograph of Phogat, Punia and Malik, who have been the faces of the protest. They were part of a group of 30-odd wrestlers at Jantar Mantar in January, too, when they made public the allegations against Singh, a member of parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Following that, the union sports ministry, of which former BCCI president Anurag Thakur is the man in charge, tasked its oversight committee to investigate the matter and submit the findings by February. The committee included, among others, boxer MC Mary Kom and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, both Olympic Games medallists (Mary Kom is also a former member of parliament). Reports say that the findings of the oversight committee have not been made available to the wrestlers.

Support for the wrestlers from the cricket community had been limited all along, and Phogat had even issued a plea of sorts to the Indian cricket community, asking why they had been silent on the plight of their fellow sportspersons.

"The entire country worships cricket but not even a single cricketer has spoken up," the Indian Express quoted Phogat as saying. "We aren't saying that you speak in our favour, but at least put up a neutral message and say there should be justice for whichever party. This is what pains me… Be it cricketers, badminton players, athletics, boxing...

"It's not like we don't have big athletes in our country. There are cricketers... During the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, they showed their support. Don't we deserve even that much?

"You do come forward to congratulate us when we win something. Even the cricketers tweet when that happens. Abhi kya ho gaya [What has happened now]? Are you so afraid of the system? Or maybe there's something fishy going on there too?"