Pointing to the silence of star cricketers and other top sportspersons, World Championship medalist Vinesh Phogat said she was “pained” to see that “they don’t have the courage” to stand up to those in power. Vinesh, along with Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, is at the forefront of the ongoing wrestlers’ protest against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
Speaking at The Indian Express Idea Exchange programme on Wednesday (edited transcript will appear on Monday, May 1), Vinesh said: “The entire country worships cricket but not even a single cricketer has spoken up. 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…”
She cited the example of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which began in the US but saw sportspersons from across the world unite to fight racism and discrimination. “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,” she asked.
Vinesh said she and Bajrang had written open letters and posted videos, requesting sportspersons to speak up. “But we don’t know what they are afraid of. I understand that they may be concerned that this could affect their sponsorship and brand endorsement deals. Maybe that’s why they are afraid to associate themselves with athletes who are protesting. But it pains me,” she said.
“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? (Unke daal mein bhi kaala hai, yeh maan ke chale hum?),” she said.
Saying that the responsibility of “cleaning up the system” lies with the country’s leading athletes, for the benefit of the next generation, the two-time World Championship medallist said the “entire system will collapse if all the athletes sit here in protest” and those running it “won’t be able to sleep peacefully”.
“But if the big athletes remain silent, then what’s the point of anything at all? Every sports federation has a problem and many athletes are my friends as well. But there should be no pretensions. I go for their matches, they come for mine, we get a photo clicked together, congratulate each other upon winning a medal, put up nice messages like ‘onwards and upwards’… Athletes need to get out of the social media bubble and express real-world emotions. They should look beyond their personal gains and ask their conscience,” she said.