Picture Credit: Twitter

Picture Credit: Twitter

Sakshi Malik, the first Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal, has expressed her displeasure over the decision of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) ad-hoc panel to exempt Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia from the selection trials for the Asian Games 2023. Sakshi said that she had also received a similar offer from the panel, but she declined it as she wanted a fair and transparent process.

The WFI ad-hoc panel, which is responsible for running the affairs of the federation in the absence of a regular President and Secretary, announced on Tuesday that Vinesh and Bajrang, who are both medal contenders for the Tokyo Olympics, would not have to appear for the trials for the Asian Games, which will be held in Hangzhou, China in September 2023. The panel said that this was done to give them more time to prepare for the Olympics and avoid any injury risk.

Read: Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat qualify for Asian Games without selection process

However, this decision has sparked a controversy among the wrestling fraternity, as many other wrestlers feel that they are being denied an equal opportunity to represent the country at the Asian Games. Sakshi said that she and other wrestlers had requested the panel to postpone the trials till August 10, as they were unable to train properly due to the protest. She said that she was surprised when she got a call from the panel asking her to send an email so that her name could also be directly forwarded to the Asian Games.

"We had demanded time from the Ad Hoc committee as we were unable to train. Accordingly, they sent a letter giving us time and said that the trials will be conducted around August 10. Later, I got a call from the committee saying that they are forwarding the name of both of them (Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat) directly for the Asian Games and asked me to send a mail so that my name could also be forwarded. However, I refused as I did not want a direct entry. I don't want to take away the rights of any junior wrestler," Sakshi told IANS.

"I haven't been to any tournament without the trials; neither will I ever do so in future. So, I am against the decision of giving exemptions to certain names. We were given an assurance that's why we came to foreign land for training. We are facing injustice and should also get equal opportunity to compete in the Asian Games," she added.

Sakshi's sentiments were echoed by several junior wrestlers, who have challenged the decision in the Delhi High Court. Antim Panghal, who is the current U20 World Champion in the 53kg category, and Sujeet Kalkal, who is the Under-23 Asian Champion in the 65kg category, have filed a petition against the WFI ad-hoc panel, alleging that it has violated the principles of natural justice and fair play by giving preferential treatment to Vinesh and Bajrang.

The court has asked the panel to explain its reasons for granting exemptions to the two wrestlers. The other wrestlers are set to compete in selection trials on July 22 and 23 to secure their spots in the Indian squad and it has angered the rest of the wrestling community, including Sakshi.