Thakur said he has also cancelled the ongoing senior national open ranking wrestling championship in Gonda, after photos and videos of Singh attending the tournament as a ‘guest’ emerged. Singh attended the tournament at Nandini Nagar sports stadium in Gonda but maintained a low profile and refrained from making any statements.
These images agitated the wrestling community after the protesting wrestlers had called off their three-day long protest at Jantar Mantar on the assurance of Thakur that Singh would not interfere in the day-to-day functioning of the WFI till the time the probe committee submits its report.
Speaking exclusively to TOI on Saturday evening, Thakur said he has taken strong objection to Tomar’s comments made to a video news agency, where he defended Singh by terming the charges levelled against him by the country’s leading women wrestlers as “baseless”.
Thakur added that Tomar has also been suspended on charges of embezzlement of funds received through sponsorships. “I have taken a strong view of Tomar’s interview and the allegations of financial impropriety against him. We have decided to suspend him pending inquiry against him. This is the first step in the direction that we are with the wrestlers,” the minister said.
“I am cancelling the tournament in Gonda till the time the committee takes over the affairs of the WFI. They will take a call on its conduct,” he added.
A few hours after issuing Tomar’s suspension letter, the ministry came out with another office order directing the WFI to “stop all ongoing activities with immediate effect” unless the oversight committee is formally appointed and takes over the day-to-day functioning of the federation. The ministry also directed the WFI to return the entry fees charged to participants for the event.
In the letter suspending Tomar, the ministry wrote: “The ministry has taken note of the reports about the functioning of the WFI, including the role of Vinod Tomar and has reasons to believe that his continued presence will be detrimental to the development of this high priority discipline. Therefore, in terms of the provision of the sports code 2011, the ministry has decided to suspend Vinod Tomar forthwith, and accordingly, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) is directed to convey this decision to WFI immediately,” the circular read.
Tomar has been engaged as assistant secretary of the WFI since October 28, 2002 and his salary was being reimbursed by the SAI from the funds allocated under the Scheme of Assistance to the national sports federations (NSFs).
It’s been learnt these decisions were taken to placate the agitating wrestlers, who felt cheated and let down by the ministry after Singh attended the nationals in Gonda.
In Gonda, Singh was accompanied by his MLA son Prateek Bhushan, WFI vice-chairman Karan Bhushan Singh, BJP MLA Ajay Singh and Paltu Ram. He spent the entire day at the stadium and interacted with well-wishers.
There have been talks about the wrestlers launching a fresh offensive and starting their sit-in protest again at Jantar Mantar, demanding Singh’s suspension. However, it’s been learnt that after Saturday’s late evening developments, they have cancelled their second round of agitation.
Earlier in the day, WFI rejected all the allegations, including that of sexual harassment against Singh, in its eight-page reply to the ministry and claimed that the wrestlers’ protest was motivated by a “hidden agenda to dislodge the current management”.
“The WFI is managed by an elected body as per its constitution, and therefore, there is no scope for arbitrariness and mismanagement in WFI by any one individually, including the president,” the WFI said in its response to the sports ministry.
“The WFI, under the sitting president, has always acted keeping the best interests of wrestlers in mind.
“The WFI has enhanced the image of wrestling sport nationally as well as internationally and for the record of this ministry, it is not possible without fair, supportive, clean and strict management of WFI,” it added.
Meanwhile, WFI general secretary VN Prasood reached Lucknow on Saturday evening and told TOI that the special executive council meeting of the federation will take place on Sunday morning.
It was not clear whether Singh would attend the meeting.
Prasood, who is also the chairman of WFI’s sexual harassment committee since 2019, said: “Not a single individual has come forward with a complaint related to sexual harassment before me or any other committee member. Nobody has levelled such allegations even during casual chats or interactions.”
Defending Singh’s presence at the Gonda event, WFI’s Vinod Tomar said the schedule for the inaugural ceremony was prepared months back and he did not attend the tournament as the federation president but “as a sports enthusiast and a visitor”.