'Distraught' Vinesh Phogat calls WFI allegations of indiscipline at Tokyo Olympics 'wrongful'

Vinesh Phogat wrestles Belarus' Vanesa Kaladzinskaya in the women's freestyle 53kg quarterfinals at Tokyo Olympics. JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Indian wrestler Vinesh Phogat, who had been suspended by the Wrestling Federation of India on grounds of indiscipline during the Tokyo Olympics, has formally denied the charges made against her. "While the athlete deeply regrets not winning a medal, she has been wrongfully accused of misconduct and indiscipline at the Tokyo Olympic Games Village. The athlete respectfully refutes the allegations specified," Phogat said in a response made through senior lawyer Vidushpat Singhania, in a reply to the WFI's notice.

Phogat, 2019 world championships bronze medallist and an Asian Games gold medallist, was one of India's top prospects at the Tokyo Olympics but was eliminated after losing to Vanesa Kaladzinskaya of Belarus. However, there already had been rumblings inside the federation against the wrestler after she had posted on social media that her personal physiotherapist was not granted accreditation for the Tokyo Olympics. Following the conclusion of the Olympics, Phogat was temporarily suspended by the WFI and was given a 'show cause notice' on three charges of 'indiscipline' -- that she did not stay with her teammates at the Games village, didn't train with them and for sporting the name of her personal sponsor on her singlet instead of the official sponsor of the Indian contingent.

In response to the accusation that she did not stay with the Indian wrestling contingent - Phogat clarified that she was merely following COVID-19 quarantine rules and regulations specified by the IOC and the Japanese government. Since Phogat, who had been training in Hungary with coach Woller Akos, had arrived at the Olympic village a day after the rest of the Indian contingent, the quarantine protocol she had to follow was different. While athletes arriving from India had to serve a mandatory three-day quarantine, Phogat, having travelled from Hungary, was not subject to a quarantine, and was assigned to stay with the members of the Indian 4x400 women's athletes who had already completed their quarantine. Phogat argued that she did not break any rules as the athletics team was part of the larger Indian contingent in Tokyo.

Phogat added that since she had already been infected twice with the COVID-19 virus, she was reluctant to quarantine herself with the Indian wrestling team in order to reduce the chances of being infected again. She said that she interacted with the remainder of the contingent after the completion of their quarantine. "The actions of the athlete were genuine and well intentioned as, immediately after the rest of the wrestling contingent had undergone the quarantine period, the athlete regularly joined the other female wrestlers for lunch and dinner every day from July 31 till her stay at the Olympic Village," the response noted.

Phogat also denied the allegation that she had refused to train with other wrestlers of the Indian team. Phogat said that owing to COVID-19 protocol, she had in fact travelled on the same transportation as the Indian contingent. She also noted that she had trained with Seema Bisla - India's representative in the 50kg division on two separate days (3rd and 4th August).

Phogat said that her first day of training at the Olympic Village had concluded late in the day - close to 7:30 p.m. local time -- and by the time her physiotherapist had finished her work, it was close to 10pm. She said this had affected her sleep cycle and had requested the national team coach Kuldeep Malik whether subsequently she could train an hour earlier in the day. Phogat said that Malik had agreed to her request. "The athlete continued her training thereafter, at her earlier time with her personal coach, in order to follow her well-practiced schedule of training and was daily in touch with the head coach informing him about her training schedule. The actions of the athlete were solely to allow her to perform to best of her abilities while keeping herself safe. " the response read.

Phogat though admitted an error in not wearing the official Indian jersey on the day of the competition, saying it was 'unintentional' and due to 'incorrect planning'.

However, the response also noted that Phogat had worn the official singlet of the Indian team for all training sessions in the Olympic village and had worn the official kit - T-shirt, track suit and shoes before the start of her first bout. Phogat said that since she had been regularly wearing the singlet, she had failed to get it washed before the day of her bout. Following physical illness prior to the start of her competition, Phogat says she failed to wear the official singlet. "Since a day before her first bout on 05.08.2021, the athlete was feeling extremely uncomfortable and nauseous. The athlete did eventually also vomit before her first bout at the Olympics. The athlete, amidst all the chaos that was happening with her body, could not ensure if she was carrying the official jersey (wrestling singlet) of India," the response read.