On January 16, the Indian Express published a report and alleged that 45 complaints of sexual harassment have been registered around 28 Sports Authority of India (SAI) institutes.
The report found that most people found guilty of charges of sexual offence were “let off leniently.” Cases range from molestation to physical abuse across various sports events. Many accused kept on training their victims for years, even after numerous complaints. The report claimed that many predators go away with a pay reduction for a month or an absent increment for a year.
It prompted Union Sports Minister, Kiren Rijiju, to direct SAI to speed up pending inquiries and address all complaints of sexual harassment within four weeks. He highlighted the Government policy of zero tolerance on sexual harassment in SAI institutes.
“There is zero tolerance for sexual harassment on SAI campuses. The inquiries that are underway will be speeded up. I have directed that all pending cases will be disposed within the next four weeks,” Kiren Rijiju said in a statement.
Rijiju conceded that the responsibility of providing a safe environment to both male and female athletes lies with the SAI. He vowed to make the existing system more robust with respect to dealing with sexual harassment complaints.
Reacting to the Indian Express Report, SAI has claimed that “substantive deterrents” are already in place and that sexual harassment on campus is not rampant. Having said that, the administration acknowledged the need to make punishments harsher for those found guilty of sexual offences.
35 complaints have been received between 2011 and 2019, suggests official SAI records. 15 cases still have pending inquiries whereas punishment has been handed out to the accused in 13 cases, while inquiry is in progress in 15 cases.
2 accused were acquitted by a court while one complaint was withdrawn. One accused committed suicide whereas three cases turned out to be fake. A total of 27 cases were filed by athletes against their coaches.
Sports Authority of India has a standard procedure to deal with complaints alleging sexual harassment. The first step, as per norm, is the setup of an Internal Complaint Committee with a senior lady as chairperson. Women should constitute the majority in the committee.
The panel should also include members of NGOs. Second, the accused official or coached is transferred to another place so that the complainant is not threatened or intimidated. Third, various workshops are conducted in several local languages to sensitise trainees about sexual harassment. Call centres are in operation wherein sportspersons can directly reach for help over the phone. Lastly, SAI has 12 regional committees to deal with complaints.