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Wrestling With Power
Building Safe and Gender-Just Spaces in Sports
The President of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Singh and wrestling coaches were accused of sexual harassment of female athletes in January 2023, by wrestlers, led by Olympic medallists, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, and Commonwealth gold medallist Vinesh Phogat, in New Delhi. Mr Singh, also a member of parliament, has denied all allegations. Following government assurances that this will be looked into, the wrestlers called the protests off. But the demonstrations in New Delhi resumed again, in April 2023, following what the protesters say was government inaction. While the inquiry report of the government was completed in April, the findings were not made public. The Supreme Court has pressed the police for an explanation for not registering the case against Singh, terming the allegations ‘serious’. The sit-in protests of the wrestlers continue under rain, storm and police violence.
This has brought to the forefront again questions of safety and gender just spaces in sports. Are our athletes safe where they work? Do the same patriarchal structures that become hurdles in the growth of women in other work spaces play out here? Are there systems in place for redressal of discrimination and complaints? What are the various negotiations and compromises that our athletes have to deal with? How does the power imbalance between administrators and athletes endanger the latter? Are there laws protecting their well-being? This panel will discuss these issues and what more can be done for our athletes who bring us joy and fame with their sheer talent, grit and perseverance.
During the course of her long athletic career of 15 years (1976-1992), Reeth Abraham has represented the Karnataka State and the Country on a number of occasions, setting records along the way. She has won 16 Gold and 11 Silver medals at the National Championships and has held the National Record in Long Jump and Heptathlon. She won the Arjuna Award for outstanding performance in sports (1997), the Rajyotsava Award, the Best Asian woman Master Athlete for the year 2015 among many others. She is the Director of NEB sports which organises Marathons in Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, New Delhi and Hyderabad and various other sporting events across the country. Reeth is the Founder member and convenor of Clean Sports India, a movement started by former sports persons to fight corruption in sports organizations in the country and also to encourage former sports persons to take up administration of sports organisations and to encourage the younger generation on the importance of drug free competitive environment.
Nisha Millet, Head Coach & Founder of Nisha Millets Swimming Academy, is one of the most recognised names in Indian swimming with a career spanning 15 years and more than 600 gold medals to her credit. She was the first Indian swimmer to qualify for the Olympics in 200 metres freestyle and represented India at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Senior National Champion for 11 years running from 1994-2005. She won the Arjuna Award (2000), Rajyotsava Award (2001) and the Ekalavya Award (2003). She represented India at the World Swimming Championships (1998 & 2004), Asian Games (1998), SAF games (1999), and Australian Nationals (2003 & 2004). Nisha Millet’s Swimming Academy has 10 centres and a team of 25 coaches around Bangalore. She is an National ranked cross fitter and has completed her first 50km Ultra run.
A multi-faceted media professional, social activist and politician, Payel Sengupta is also a football lover, foodie at heart & an entrepreneur working towards women empowerment. She is the Founder and Director of Bengaluru Sports Lovers Association. She is also the Business Curator of the Ecommerce site ‘Our Parampara’ and a co-owner of Ficuslot Pvt Limited, a digital marketing company. She is a firm believer in child development through education and women empowerment, for a better society.
Sharda Ugra spent more than three decades in sports journalism, working with Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day, national daily The Hindu, India Today magazine and ESPNcricinfo and ESPN India.
During this time, she has written and spoken about issues around Indian sport at home and abroad in popular and academic publications.
She worked with former New Zealand captain John Wright on John Wright’s Indian Summers, his memoirs of his years coaching India and with Yuvraj Singh on The Test of My Life, an account of his diagnosis and recovery from cancer. She was a fellow of the Australia India Institute, University of Melbourne in 2013. Having finally left the formal workforce, she believes she is just getting started.
Laxmi Murthy is a journalist, researcher and writer based in Bangalore. She heads the Hri Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange, a research and advocacy initiative of the South Asia Trust, Kathmandu. Laxmi works on issues of press freedom and journalists’ rights with the International Federation of Journalists. She is co-founder editor of the Free Speech Collective (FSC) and one of the founder members of the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI).
Laxmi has been active in the autonomous women’s movement in India for almost four decades and participated in the process of developing new legislation around pre-natal sex determination; sexual assault and sexual harassment at the workplace. She has been involved in evolving safe workplaces through training, policy formulation and sitting on committees.
Nandan Kamath specialises in sports law, technology law, governance and regulation. He is the Founder and Principal Lawyer at LawNK, co-founder and Managing Trustee of GoSports Foundation – a National Award-winning organization for elite athletes – and co-founder of the Sports and Society Accelerator. He has been involved with drafting various sports policies and schemes for the government, and was co-editor of Go! India’s Sporting Transformation, published by Penguin Random House in 2019. He is a graduate of the National Law School of India University, the University of Oxford and Harvard Law School, and played cricket at the junior national level.
Arundhati is a poet in Bangla and sometimes writes in English. She works in the cultural sector.