Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju. (Express file photo by Prem Nath Pandey)
A DAY after The Indian Express reported that 45 cases of sexual harassment were reported at 24 centres run by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) between 2010 and 2019, and that many cases have dragged on for years, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju Friday ordered that inquiries into all pending cases be “disposed within the next four weeks”.
Stressing that there is “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment at SAI centres, Rijiju promised to make the system of addressing harassment cases “more robust”.
“The inquiries that are underway will be speeded up. I have directed that all pending cases will be disposed within the next four weeks. We will ensure that the already existing system of addressing sexual harassment cases and protecting our athletes, both boys and girls, is made more robust,” Rijiju said in a statement released by SAI.
On Thursday, The Indian Express obtained data under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to report that 29 of the 45 complaints in SAI were against coaches in sports such as gymnastics, athletics, weightlifting, boxing and wrestling. Hours later, former SAI director general Neelam Kapur said the “actual number of cases will be much higher” since not all athletes had the “courage to report”.
29 of the 45 complaints from 2010 to 2019 were against coaches in sports such as gymnastics, athletics, weightlifting, boxing and wrestling. (Representative image)
In its statement, SAI said they had received 35 cases of sexual harassment from 2011 to 2019, out of which 27 were complaints by trainees against their coaches. “So far, penalty has been imposed on 14 people who have been found guilty and enquiry is under progress for 15 cases. Rest of the cases are either acquitted by the concerned court or could not be established,” it said.
The Authority, which comes under the Sports Ministry, defended the systems in place, saying all sexual harassment cases are dealt under the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence (POCSO) Act, 2012, and Sexual Harassment of Women at World Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The Indian Express report also revealed that the accused in several cases were let off leniently, with punishments ranging from transfers to a small cut in pay or pension.
SAI said they have an Internal Complaint Committee in place at each of the regional centres and academic institutions, which conducts a preliminary enquiry on any complaint received directly from an athlete or from other sources.
“The report is then shared with the competent authority for further action. To ensure that there is no possibility of intimidation of the complainant, the officer/coach against whom the complaint is raised is shifted from the place of posting as soon as a complaint is received,” the statement said.
Further, it said workshops are conducted at centres in local languages and a call centre has been operational since April 2019. According to SAI, the centre received 350 calls from trainees on various issues in December 2019 while the call centre contacted 1,550 athletes in the same month.
Rijiju, meanwhile, insisted on creating a “safe environment” for athletes. “Athletes spend their formative years at SAI centres and it is our foremost responsibility to give them a safe environment in which to live and train,” he said.