Sports

Former India Footballer Mehtab Hossain Joins Mamata Banerjee's Protest March, Extends Support To Wrestlers

On Tuesday, the wrestlers reached Har ki Pauri in Haridwar, threatening to immerse their medals in the Ganges, but were later stopped from doing so by Khap and farmer leaders.

Mehtab was accompanied by about 20 former East Bengal players and officials.
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Showing solidarity with the aggrieved wrestlers, former India midfielder Mehtab Hossain on Wednesday joined a protest march in the city led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. (More Wrestling News)

Unprecedented scenes of police dragging Olympic and World Championships medallists, including Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sangeeta Phogat, were witnessed when the wrestlers and their supporters breached the security cordon during their march towards the new Parliament building for the planned women's 'Mahapanchayat' on Sunday.

The grapplers are demanding the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India's (WFI) outgoing chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh for allegedly sexually harassing several women wrestlers, including a minor.

"When the same athletes won you Olympic medals, the prime minister had the time to host them over tea and gave photo-ops," the former East Bengal midfielder told PTI.

"If the PM spared five minutes to listen to their pleas, this wrestling drama would not have reached this stage," he added.

On Tuesday, the wrestlers reached Har ki Pauri in Haridwar, threatening to immerse their medals in the Ganges, but were later stopped from doing so by Khap and farmer leaders.

The 37-year-old Mehtab said, "Remember, the whole world is watching us. It's bringing shame to the country, even the IOC and UWW have taken note of it. 

"They are all international players who brought medals at the highest level. The country's image is dented."

Known as the 'Midfield General' in Kolkata Maidan, Mehtab hung up his boots in 2018-19 and joined the BJP, only to "quit" within 24 hours in the build-up to the West Bengal 2021 elections.

Mehtab was accompanied by about 20 former East Bengal players and officials who joined the protest rally.

The rally began at Hazra and culminated at Rabindra Sadan, and witnessed participation of 36 organisations, including the Bengal Olympic Association, the Indian Football Association (IFA), East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting clubs.

"We're not coming under any party colour. We were there to support our brothers and sisters who have brought glory to the country," Mehtab said.

"This is our way of expressing our solidarity with the wrestlers as we are not able to go there and support them physically. They are our brothers and sisters.

"As a fellow sportsperson, we are deeply touched by what they are going through. They have sacrificed their lives for the sport, to earn medals for the country. No common person can do such sacrifice.

"It's definitely a serious issue, are they are made to sit on dharna for so many days. They are putting at stake all their lives' earnings."

Former East Bengal players who attended the rally included Syed Rahim Nabi, Alvito D'Cunha, Asim Biswas, Debjit Ghosh, Prasanta Banerjee, and Pintu Chowdhury among others.

Alvito said the matter should be investigated properly.

"Whatever is happening with the wrestlers today should not repeat in future with any other sports people.

"This will have a bad impact and parents won't allow their kids to take up sport, especially the girls, from henceforth.

"The culprits should be punished and justice should prevail, that's all we ask for," Alvito said.

So far, two FIRs had been lodged against Brij Bhushan including one in POCSO act, but it is now being claimed that the 'minor' who has filed a complaint against the WFI chief is actually not a minor.

The oversight panel, which was formed by the government to probe the allegations, did not make its findings public but sources had claimed that the six-member committee did not find any incriminating evidence against Brij Bhushan.

The WFI chief has denied all the charges and said that even if one allegation is proved, he will "hang himself".

Brij Bhushan has alleged political conspiracy behind the protest.

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