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Vinesh Phogat refutes two WFI charges; admits not wearing jersey was unintended error

Vinesh Phogat responded to allegations hurled at her by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) on August 10, refuting them on all counts, save for the one related to the unauthorised jersey.

Written by Shivani Naik |
Updated: August 16, 2021 8:48:51 am
Vinesh Phogat suffered a quarter-final defeat in the Tokyo Olympics. (AP)

Vinesh Phogat responded to allegations hurled at her by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) on August 10, refuting them on all counts, save for the one related to the unauthorised jersey.

The response to the federation from Vinesh’s lawyer stated: “At the outset, the Athlete would like to state that she is distraught upon receiving the said Notice, especially immediately after the Tokyo Olympics 2020…

While the Athlete deeply regrets not winning a medal, the Athlete believes she has been wrongfully accused of misconduct and indiscipline at the Tokyo Olympic Games Village (‘Olympic Village’). The Athlete respectfully refutes the allegations specified under the said Notice.”

Vidushpat Singhania, managing partner, Krida Legal, said they have only replied to the allegations made against Vinesh by the federation and did not get into other issues, including the absence of a dedicated physiotherapist for Vinesh and other women wrestlers.

“We are only answering the three allegations levelled against her in the show-cause notice so we did not go into the details of other logistics regarding the Olympics,” Singhania, who is representing Vinesh, said. “The ball is now in WFI’s court, we are now waiting for their response.”

READ | ‘One medal (lost) and everything is finished’: Vinesh Phogat

Charge 1: Vinesh was accused of negative behaviour with teammates for refusing to stay and train with the Indian contingent at Olympics village.

Reply: “The Athlete completely disagrees with the above-stated complaint & refutes the allegation in its entirety.”

The wrestler stated that she was merely following the Covid-19 quarantine rules & regulations as specified by the International Olympic Committee & government of Japan in the athletes playbook. Referring to the ‘Test, Trace and Isolate’ regulations, the response noted that each athlete from India on arrival at the Olympic Village had to undergo a 3-day mandatory quarantine period. But Vinesh, who flew in from Hungary, as advised by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to those training abroad, reached Tokyo on July 28 and wasn’t required to. However, she chose caution to ensure safety of both herself and other wrestlers.

In order to follow all COVID-19 protocols, Vinesh was required to stay with athletes of India’s track & field contingent who had arrived before the wrestlers and completed their quarantine, and was housed with Revathi Veeramani, Subha Venkatesan and Sekar Dhanalakshmi.

“The Athlete did not stay separately from the Indian contingent, as even the athletics contingent was a part of the larger Indian contingent at the Tokyo Olympics 2020,” the reply said.

Having contracted Covid-19 twice before and still battling with the side-effects of the infection, Vinesh prioritised her mental health and followed protocols to ensure COVID-19 did not become a hurdle for her Olympic dream. “The Athlete stayed with earlier arrived athletes from the contingent of India (as allotted at the Olympic Village) so that she could solely focus on her performance and not be grappling with the mental pressure of apprehension of contracting COVID-19 or breaking the protocols laid down.”

Subsequently, Vinesh decided to continue her stay with the Indian athletics contingent for all remaining days of her stay at the Olympic Village since her mind and body had got accustomed to the surroundings during the first three days of her quarantine period. “The actions of the Athlete were genuine and well intentioned as, immediately after the rest of the wrestling contingent had undergone the quarantine period, the Athlete regularly joined the other female wrestlers for lunch and dinner every day from 31.07.2021 (post completion of quarantine period) till her stay at the Olympic Village.”

READ | No personal physio for a day makes no difference: WFI on Vinesh’s grievance

Charge 2: Refusal to train with Indian contingent

Reply: “It is humbly submitted that the allegation of refusal to train with the other athletes of the Indian wrestling contingent are false & denied.”

The reply states that due to protocols, Vinesh used the same transportation as the other Indian wrestlers for the July 29 afternoon training, but only trained on different mats, due to the high risk in contact sports of infection transmission.

Post completion of the mandatory quarantine period for Indians, Vinesh trained with Seema Bisla on August 3-4.

The reply also elaborated on the complication caused after Vinesh was assigned a physiotherapist from the shooting contingent. Since the physio only became available post 21:15 hrs Japan Standard Time (JST), her day stretched beyond 22:00 hrs. So Vinesh requested a change in the schedule of their training to an earlier time, when the physiotherapist was available at an appropriate hour and their sleeping pattern was not disturbed.

“However, while the fellow wrestlers of the Athlete had hesitation in discussing the shift of the training schedule with the head coach – Mr. Kuldeep Malik, the Athlete discussed and consulted with Mr. Kuldeep Malik for slight change in timings of her training. Mr. Malik showed full cooperation and permitted the Athlete to shift her training timings earlier than the scheduled timings from the Indian women wrestling contingent.”

Vinesh Phogat A day after her suspension, Vinesh Phogat had revealed her physical and mental struggle during the Games. (File)

So, in order to align timings with the physio, Vinesh shifted her training timings to merely an hour earlier than the scheduled training timings of the fellow Indian wrestlers, after obtaining permission from the head coach of the Indian wrestling contingent. Training with her personal coach, she stayed in touch with the head coach, informing him about her training schedule.

“The Athlete on 03.08.2021 and 04.08.2021 trained with her fellow wrestler, Ms. Seema Bisla at 15:30 hrs JST at the training centre, therefore the allegation that the Athlete did not train with the Indian wrestling contingent is not factually correct,” the reply said.

Spelling out Vinesh’s achievements while reaching the World No 1 ranking, the reply added: “The Athlete has always honoured and respected the role of the WFI and its members in her growth and her journey. The Athlete has always been a team player and the Athlete’s conduct in previous international tournaments is testament of the same.”

Post quarantine, she regularly had lunch and dinner with the Indian wrestling contingent and spent time with fellow Indian wrestlers.

Pleading that all athletes exercise certain autonomy over their schedules, the reply said: “The above stated actions of the Athlete were genuine, bona-fide and well intentioned solely with intention to allow the Athlete to perform to best of her abilities while keeping herself safe.”

READ | Vinesh Phogat’s predicament points to a troubling sports culture

Charge 3: Wearing wrong singlet

Reply: “The athlete hereby acknowledges the regretful error of not wearing the official Indian Olympic jersey/singlet as provided by IOA and the said error by the Athlete is solely attributable to the unintentional & incorrect planning by the Athlete.”

Vinesh stated that the Indian jersey which she wore to training was not washed for the day of competition owing to prior circumstances, and the error was not ill-intentioned.

From the day before her first bout, on August 5, Vinesh had been feeling uncomfortable & nauseous. She eventually also vomited before her first bout at the Olympics. “It is pertinent to mention that the Athlete wore the official jersey/kit of India for all training sessions at the Olympic Village, including at her training sessions on August 2-3-4. The Athlete had been donning the full official kit (including t-shirts, track suit & shoes) at all times, even till before the start of her Olympic bout on 05.08.2021… The Athlete, amidst all the chaos that was happening with her body, could not ensure if she was carrying the official jersey (wrestling singlet) of India or not. The Athlete humbly and unconditionally apologises to WFI and IOA for not being able to wear the official jersey/singlet at her Olympic bout,” the reply said.

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