How has the Indian cricket fraternity reacted to the wrestlers' protest?

Kapil Dev (L), wrestler Sakshi Malik (C), and Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.
Kapil Dev (L), wrestler Sakshi Malik (C), and Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.

Most of the Indian cricket fraternity has chosen to silently observe the ongoing month-long protest by internationally-acclaimed wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, and Sakshi Malik, among others. The famed wrestlers are protesting against the alleged sexual harassment by Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Singh.

According to The Indian Express, the two FIRs filed against Singh by wrestlers allege at least two instances of demanding “sexual favors” in lieu of professional assistance and at least 15 incidents of sexual harassment.

Only a few former cricketers have come out in support of the wrestlers, who are demanding Singh's dismissal. 1983 World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev, who hails from the same state as most of the wrestlers, Haryana, was among the first (April 27). He posted a photo from a protest asking, "Will they ever get justice?".

Former Indian teammates Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, and Irfan Pathan backed him the following day on Twitter. They expressed their regret at seeing the "pride" of the country protesting on the streets and hoped for a quick resolution.

Later that day, Shikha Pandey, became the only current cricketer to speak on the subject.

"It takes great strength to wrestle. But it takes greater strength to speak up. I hope and pray that justice shall be served at the earliest," she said.

Recently, one of India's greatest spinners and former men's coach, Anil Kumble joined in as well.

Perhaps the biggest cricketing contribution came on Friday when the members of the 1983 team, including Kapil Dev and legendary batter Sunil Gavaskar, released a joint statement.

“We are distressed and disturbed at the unseemly visuals of our champion wrestlers being manhandled. We are also most concerned that they are thinking of dumping their hard-earned medals into river Ganga," the statement read.

However, by late evening, BCCI president Roger Binny, also a member of the 1983 World Cup-winning squad distanced himself from the statement.

“Contrary to some media reports, I would like to clarify that I have not issued any statement regarding the current situation of the wrestlers’ protest. I believe that the competent authorities are working on to resolve the issue. As a former cricketer, I believe that sports should not be mixed with politics,” Binny told PTI.

Apart from this, some former cricketers who usually are the cricket fraternity's voice on political issues, like Sachin Tendulkar, and all members of the current men and women have remained silent on the wrestlers' protest.

The likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have been criticized for taking a knee during the Black Lives Matter movement in 2021, and other national issues, but being almost ignorant of the protests.

"Are you so afraid of the system?" - wrestlers Vinesh Phogat to cricketers

Last month, Phogat summed up the wrestlers' frustration in an interview, asking cricketers and other sportspersons why can't they even send a "neutral message".

"The entire country worships cricket but not even a single cricketer has spoken up," the Indian Express quoted Phogat as saying. "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..."
"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? 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?"

The men's cricket team is currently in England, preparing for the World Test Championship (WTC) final against Australia, which will start on June 7.

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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