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The president of the Georgian National Wrestling Federation, Gega Gegeshidze, has been arrested on charges of assault after a video was broadcasted of him hitting European wrestling champion Zurab Datunashvili in the face with a metal object.
Datunashvili has called for Gegeshidze’s resignation, but many other wrestlers have come out in support of the federation president, insisting he is innocent despite the video evidence.
The video, obtained by opposition-leaning TV channel Rustavi 2, shows Gegeshidze hitting Datunashvili, champion in Greco-Roman wrestling, twice in the face with a metal object.
The incident occured on 11 January, on the second day of a four-day championship in which Datunashvili competed with 2018 European champion Robert Kobliashvili.
In a post on Facebook on 16 January, Datunashvili said the incident started after he protested a decision by one of the judges during the competition.
He said that while the management intervened in their argument, several people who did not represent the federation but were affiliated with its management physically attacked his brother.
‘After this, the president of the federation, Gega Gegeshidze, got involved in the fight and hit me twice in the head with an iron object’, he said. Datunashvili attached a photo of himself, reportedly taken immediately after the incident, in which he appears covered in blood.
He said that there had been tensions between him and the federation’s management in the past because he had protested against a corrupt scheme in the federation.
‘They force sportsmen to change their personal trainers or to register certain people from the federation as their second trainers, by which they benefit from a share of the trainers’ bonuses’, Datunashvili wrote.
He also accused Vladimer Gegeshidze, who was recently appointed as an advisor to the Greco-Roman wrestling team and is the brother of the Federation’s head, of coercing athlete’s into taking part in the scheme.
He said Vladimer Gegeshidze told athletes that if they did not obey these demands, ‘they will not win any Georgian Championships and therefore won’t be competing at any international tournaments’.
He called on officials to intervene, claiming the accusations were just the tip of the iceberg. He also called on fellow athletes to speak up against injustice.
‘Talking about problems is not shameful. What is shameful is putting up with injustice. Today, silence means that we are making the rule of this clan even stronger, which may lead to unfortunate and unimprovable results’, Datunashvili said.
Despite the incident taking place on 11 January, the interior ministry did not make an arrest until after Rustavi 2 broadcasted the video depicting the incident Datunashvili had described.
Gega Gegeshidze was arrested on 22 January on assault charges. It is not yet known if he will plead guilty, as his lawyer has not yet commented publicly on the arrest.
On 24 January, Tbilisi City Court released Gegeshidze on ₾5,000 bail. The court did not satisfy the prosecutor’s demand to remove him from his position as head of the Wrestlers’ Federation.
A number of Georgian Wrestlers have demanded Gegeshidze be released following his arrest.
On 23 January several dozen wrestlers held a demonstration in support of the Federation President. At the demonstration, 2016 Olympics gold medalist in wrestling Vladimer Khinchagashvili told journalists that ‘wrestling is violence’, to justify Gegeshidze’s actions.
‘Wrestling is violence. When I wrestle, I assault. When I wrestle with a sportsman, I assault him. I can’t earn points without using force’, said Khinchagashvili.
Other wrestlers expressed concerns as well, with several criticising Datunashvili. One of them said that ‘wrestlers are a family and such information should not be leaking outside of a family’.
In response to this criticism, Datunashvili said he did not believe in a family where ‘a family member in need is abandoned, while the other member, who has power, gets all the support when in trouble’.
On 23 January, before Gegeshidze’s release on bail, several Georgian wrestlers held a press briefing where they called for his release. They said they had stopped training and would not resume until his release, claiming it was damaging their chances in the coming Olympics.