New Delhi: Taking cognisance of allegations of sexual harassment against Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the Indian Olympic Association on Friday formed a seven-member committee, headed by M C Mary Kom, to probe the charges.
The allegations have been made by some of the country's top wrestlers including Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Ravi Dahiya.
The panel was constituted even as the wrestlers' sit-in protest entered the third day which also saw them meet union sports minister Anurag Thakur for a second round of talks in less than 24 hours.
Besides legendary boxer Mary Kom and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, the panel includes archer Dola Banerjee and Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) president and IOA treasurer Sahdev Yadav.
The committee also has two advocates -- Talish Ray and Shlok Chandra -- besides former shuttler and IOA joint secretary Alaknanda Ashok, who is its vice chairperson.
The decision was taken during the IOA's emergency Executive Council meeting, which was attended by the likes of Olympic champion shooter Abhinav Bindra, Olympic bronze medallist Yogeshwar, along with IOA president PT Usha and joint secretary Kalyan Chaubey.
IOA Athletes Commission Member Shiva Keshvan was a special invitee in the meeting.
IOA president Usha has assured that a thorough investigation will be carried out by the panel to ensure justice.
Most of the committee members are affiliated to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
"A detailed discussion was held on the letter received from the athletes and all the members including special invitees presented their views and suggestions," the IOA said in a statement.
"It was unanimously agreed that IOA must not get carried away by media trials. Further the EC unanimously decided that a Committee will be formed in accordance with the prevention of sexual harassment of women act of 2013 and must hear both sides and submit a report to the IOA President.
"Instructions have been given to the committee to meet at the earliest.
"The EC also appreciates the action and initiatives taken by the Ministry of Sports & Youth Affairs and awaits its report on the matter," the country's apex sports body added.
The panel includes two advocates, one male and one female, two IOA office bearers and two representatives of National Sports Federations (NSFs).
Vinesh had said that Yogeshwar, one of the panel members, is "sitting on the lap of the WFI", so how wrestlers will accept this committee is yet to be seen.
This comes after the agitating wrestlers had earlier on Friday reached out to the IOA, demanding formation of an enquiry committee to probe the allegations against Singh, a day after threatening to lodge multiple FIRs against the WFI chief.
In a letter addressed to IOA president, the wrestlers alleged financial misappropriation (of funds) on part of the WFI and claimed that the coaches and sports science staff at the national camp are "absolutely incompetent".
Reacting to the latest development, Usha tweeted, "As IOA President, I've been discussing the current matter of wrestlers with the members and for all of us the welfare and well being of the athletes is the top most priority of IOA. We request athletes to come forward and voice their concerns with us.
"We will ensure a complete investigation to ensure justice. We also have decided to form a special committee to deal with such situations that may arise in the future, for swifter action." In his UP bastion of Gonda earlier in the day, the under-fire WFI chief termed the protest "dharna of Shaheen Bagh" and reiterated that he won't quit from the post.
"The protest by wrestlers against me is the dharna of Shaheen Bagh," Singh, who is also a sixth-time Lok Sabha MP from UP's Kaisarganj constituency, told reporters in his native place.
Later in the evening, his son Prateek said Singh will issue a statement on the allegations after the sports body's Annual General Meeting on January 22.
The IOA panel will call all the concerned parties as part of its investigation.
Sahadev Yadav told PTI, "We will call the wrestlers and listen to what they have to say and conduct a proper investigation." Putting forward their four demands, the wresters wrote: "We request the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to immediately appoint a committee to enquire into the complaints of sexual harassment." The wrestlers also reiterated their demand that WFI be disbanded and its president be sacked.
"A new committee should be formed to run the affairs of WFI in consultation with the wrestlers," they wrote in their fourth and last demand.
The letter was signed by five wrestlers -- Tokyo Olympics medallists Dahiya and Bajrang, Rio Games bronze winner Sakshi and World Championship medallists Vinesh and Deepak Punia.
Further in the letter, the athletes pleaded, "It has taken a lot of courage for us wrestlers to come together and protest against the WFI President. We fear for our lives. If he is not sacked then the careers of all the young who joined the dharna will be over." They ended the letter by writing that "we will not budge until the WFI President is sacked".
The government has given WFI President 72 hours (till Saturday evening) to respond to the allegations.
The WFI filed its reply to the ministry this evening but Singh cancelled his scheduled press conference. He will speak with media on Sunday after WFI meeting.
Beijing Olympics bronze medallist boxer and now a Congress leader Vijender Singh also visited the protest site at Jantar Mantar, showing solidarity with the wrestlers.
Vinesh had on Thursday said that more woman wrestlers came forward with their stories of sexual exploitation and they would file multiple FIRs against the WFI president.
They met government officials on Friday and later had a dinner meeting with Sports Minister Anurag Thakur at his residence after being called for discussion on the raging issue.