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India wrestling chief holds political rally, silent on sexual misconduct probe

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By Saurabh Sharma

COLONELGUNJ, India (Reuters) – The chief of the Wrestling Federation of India, under police investigation for suspected sexual misconduct after accusations by female athletes, held a political rally on Sunday in his first public appearance since the probe was launched in April.

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, also a federal lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, is the subject of a criminal case filed by seven female wrestlers who accused him of groping young athletes at training camps and tournaments.

Singh has denied all the allegations. Delhi police are investigating and will submit their findings before a trial court on Thursday.

“I will not comment on the allegations. I am waiting for the court order on this case,” Singh told reporters at the Sunday gathering near his political constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Clad in a saffron robe and turban typically worn by Hindu monks, Singh told a crowd of supporters in scorching heat that he would continue to implement policies introduced by Modi and was committed to serving the people.

Attendees shouted “long live our lawmaker” and “we stand with you” as they gathered for the rally.

Singh, a six-term member of parliament, also runs about 50 private educational centres in and around his political constituency.

He has been the president of the Wrestling Federation of India for nearly a decade. His son is a local lawmaker and also an official at the federation.

The accusations sparked protests by India’s top wrestlers and other athletes, at times drawing a heavy-handed response from authorities who briefly detained or forcibly dispersed the participants.

Images of athletes being dragged away and carried off in buses went viral, sparking criticism from leading athletes and opposition politicians. Wrestlers eventually secured meetings with government ministers after threatening to throw their medals into the Ganges River.

The incidents have shone a spotlight on the government’s response to criminal complaints against an influential member of Modi’s ruling party, and spurred Delhi police to open two investigations against Singh in April, including one under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

Global sports organisations have also weighed in on the case.

United World Wrestling, the sport’s international governing body, issued a statement condemning the brief detentions of wrestlers during protests and criticised a lack of results in the investigations against Singh.

This month, Sport and Rights Alliance, a global coalition of non-governmental organisations that promotes human rights in sports, urged the International Olympic Committee to ensure a transparent, independent and impartial investigation into the allegations.

“It takes a lot of courage to break the silence and disclose a case of sexual abuse,” network coordinator Joanna Maranhao said.

(Writing by Rupam Jain in New Delhi; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

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