Has India Failed to Provide Safe Working Spaces for Women Athletes?

After the wave of the #MeToo Movement, the issue of sexual harassment has again hit the limelight of the newspapers & news channels. Seven women filed FIR in the Connaught Place Police Station against the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) & Bhartiya Janta Party Member of Parliament (MP), Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh alleging several sexual harassment charges. The Supreme Court had to intervene to register the FIR of the alleged victims of sexual harassment. The women athletes are generally an easy target of the sexual harassment because a sportsperson cannot represent the country without being affiliated with the National Sports Federation. Thus, the assertion of power by a person in a position of authority creates a power dynamics between the authority & the athelets under them, leading to the offence of sexual harassment.

The country’s top grapplers started a sit-in protest in Jantar Mantar to demand action & registration of an FIR against the MP. The Oversight Committee was formed after such allegations stated that there is no Internal Committee formed within WFI for the redressal of the grievances related to sexual harassment. Under Section 4 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, (Act) it is mandatory for every organization/institution having more than 10 employees to form an Internal Committee for the redressal of sexual harassment complaints. There has been a gross violation of the “Act” within the Wrestling Federation of India. This raises a question that even after 10 years of the “Act” being into force, why is there a lapse in forming an Internal Committee in a National Federation Body? Does India need extra measures to provide safer working spaces for women athletes?

Formation of the Internal Committee in the Sports Federation:

The detailed report by the Indian Express analyzing the formation of the Internal Committee found that out of the total of 30 federations, more than 50% of the Federations do not meet the mandatory compliance of the formation of the Internal Committee. Five federations, including the WFI, do not have an Internal Committee at all, and another 6 federations do not have an external member as a member of the Internal Committee. The official declaration from all 30 Federations indicates the poor implementation of the “Act”, especially regarding the formation of the Internal Committee. Another report by Human Rights Watch, 2020 mentions that even though the Internal Committee is formed at many workplaces, many members have little knowledge about the sexual harassment law since the members of the Internal Committee should not necessarily have a law background. 

The Need for the Enforcement of the National Sports Development Bill and the Way Forward

Sexual Harassment in the workplace is one of the most underrated crimes because of the subtle nature of the crime. Thus, an amendment is necessary under the “Act” to provide training sessions for the members of the Internal Committee for the fair investigation of the complaints of sexual harassment. Section 26 of the “Act” of 2013 mentions the penalty of up to Rs 50,000/- for non-compliance with the provisions of the Act. An amendment in Section 26 with the effect of increasing the penalty for non-compliance with the provisions of the Act will ensure safer working spaces for women. 

With all the reformative approaches adopted by the state to promote women’s dignity & providing a safer working space for them, the Indian Sports system is often escaped from reformative scrutiny. Complaints of sexual harassment in sports industry are very common in India. There have been various instances of sexual harassment, for instance, in May 2022, a cyclist accused her coach of sexual advancement & lewd comments. To address the issues of sexual harassment in sports, promotion of ethical practices & welfare of the sportspersons, the National Sports Development Bill (hereinafter referred to as “Bill”) was framed in 2013. But till now, the Parliament has not passed the Bill. The provisions of the Bill mentions the penalty for sexual harassment for any person found guilty of the offence, be it an Office Bearer of the Sports Federation or coach of an athlete, shall be debarred by the National Sports Federation from participating in any current or future events, in whatsoever capacity. The Bill addressing the issue of sexual harassment at the sports industry and the amendment in the 2013 Act, will provide a secure work environment and strengthen safe work spaces for women athletes.


Ana Khan, completed B.A LLB from Jamia Millia Islamia & LL.M from National Law University Delhi, email: khanana822@gmail.com
Featured image illustration by Pariplab Chakraborty.