Indian Sportswomen and Their Future

Only last week, India’s whooshing sprinter, Hima Das dubbed the ‘Dhing Express’, brought home her fifth gold medal at the Nove Mesto and Metuji Grand Prix, Czech Republic. She aced the 400m race with a season-best timing of 52.09 seconds. Since then, appreciation has poured in from all quarters for India’s new track and field sensation. Not since PT Usha has India even dared to think in its wildest of dreams that a new ‘Gold Rush’ shall burst forth – like a gust of wind that tips you off balance.

To us Indian citizens, Hima Das’s story is not just a trumpet statement of how aspiration can be turned into inspiration. The Golden Girl is emblematic of the ambitions of millions of young girls and grown women, shackled by social stereotypes and mental hindrances. Above all, she is a mouthpiece of pure success that has worked itself up from the lowest strata of Indian geography – the village. Accompanying every soaring achievement, a jubilant Hima never forgets to represent her country and state – always wrapping both the Indian flag and the traditional Assamese Gamusa around herself at every podium finish. In 2018, Hima had become the first Indian sprinter to secure a gold medal at an international track event in the World U-20 Championships held in Finland. She won the 400m silver at the 2018 Asian Games, even donating half her month’s earnings towards relief efforts in the flood-struck Assam.

Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom, popularly known as MC Mary Kom is an icon in the realm of boxing. To an India that has been taking three steps backwards for every one step forward, Mary Kom has proven her mettle in a sport usually considered to be a man’s domain. At the 2014 Asian Games held at Incheon, Mary Kom distinguished herself as the first Indian woman boxer to ever win a gold medal.

A six-time world champion, Mary Kom’s passion for boxing was ignited by her father’s strong opposition towards the sport. On 26 April 2016, the President of India nominated Mary Kom as a member of the Rajya Sabha – the Upper House of the Indian Parliament. In 2017, along with Akhil Kumar, Mary Kom was appointed a national observer for boxing. On 24 November 2018, she became the first woman to bag 6 World Championships. She achieved this marvellous feat by defeating Hannah Okhota at the 10th AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships which was held in New Delhi. Today, Mary Kom is an Olympic bronze-medalist. Magnificent Mary, as she is known amongst her fans, is also credited with instituting a female-only fight club at Imphal to train women. The underlying aim behind this institution is to enable girls to shield themselves against sexual violence. In addition to that, Mary also trains the underprivileged youth without charging any fee.

India’s standing icon in the game of Lawn Tennis turned professional at the nascent age of sixteen. Sania Mirza was ranked number one in the world for 91 weeks at a stretch in the women’s doubles category. Furthermore, she went on to raise the bar by becoming the first and only female tennis player from India to win six major titles (three each in women’s doubles and mixed doubles).

Another eminent woman sportsperson, Mithali Raj namely the captain of the Indian Women’s Cricket team, happens to be the most accomplished run-getter in Women’s Cricket. She is the only female cricketer to surpass the 6,000-run mark in One Day internationals. Mithali also happens to be the only Indian cricket captain – male or female – to lead her country to the World Cup final twice.

Holding her own in the face of male counterparts like Bajrang Punia, Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt who have illuminated the annals of the sport in India with their respective feats, freestyle wrestler Geeta Phogat became a household name after she won a gold medal in wrestling at the Commonwealth Games (2010). Also, the first Indian female wrestler to have qualified for the Summer Olympics (2012), she unfortunately lost out on a bronze.

Badminton is one sport that has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade. Incentives of this growth rest primarily in the rackets of two personalities. Saina Nehwal, India’s very own Olympian has besotted badminton lovers in the country with her aplomb and technique. She is the numero uno female and the second Indian shuttler to be ranked as the top seed. She has also been conferred the Arjuna Award, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan for her achievements. The third best shuttler in the world currently, PV Sindhu, is the first Indian woman to have won a silver medal at the Summer Olympics, and voila! She achieved this only at the age of twenty-one.

Sakshi Malik’s bronze in wrestling ended India’s medal drought at the Rio Olympics, 2016 and that instantly made her an inspiration for billions of Indians. With this feat, she became the first Indian female wrestler to win a medal at the Olympics. In a country where otherwise prominent sports go unnoticed, women have taken the mantle and shouldered the onus of carving a niche in this sector. The unsung star of Indian Archery, Deepika Kumari has been a former world number one and is currently ranked fifth. Similarly, Dipa Karmakar, the gymnast with a flat foot, overcame her disability and turned into an overnight hero at the Summer Olympics, 2016 – narrowly missing out on the medal. Even more elusive is the identity of Tania Sachdev who is India’s most prominent female chess player. She has been honoured with titles such as International Master and Woman Grandmaster. In Deepika Pallikal, we find a towering sportswoman who is India’s premier squash player and the first Indian to break into the top 10 in the PSA Women’s rankings.

Now that we have categorically seen the strident streak of woman achievement in the Indian sports arena, what must also be discussed is the temperament of Indian sports lovers. Where the discourse is dominated by cricket and star players who identify as primarily male, fans here do not engender the best of perspectives. To quote and opinion –

Somehow, many fans seem to find it easy to ride along when the wins come but turn vicious when the sportsperson fails.

The author contends that most of it is ultimately down to the inability of the average fan to manage expectations. Let us take the example of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics; to an unassuming fan, Hima will be expected to clinch a podium finish considering her mind-blowing performance. Nothing could be farther from the truth and this faulty narrative exists because the truth never reaches the masses that have lost their grip on ground realities.

Hima’s peak timings in similar track events (11.78, 23.10 and 50.79 seconds) proves that at this point, she’s not good enough to even qualify for the respective final events in the 2016 Rio Olympics. This article further points out how none of the twenty athletes she has faced since 2 July 2019 has a higher personal best than her. Several athletes are specialists in other events like the indoor 60m or 100m hurdles. The ones she will face in the Olympics specialize in that very race she will be running. However, this does not mean that she cannot make it to the finish line. By the time the Tokyo Olympics hit the ground, she will only be 20 years of age. To get better she will have to be incubated in special facilities, effective training regimes and experienced coaching to run the distance without the personal expense.

As a nation, it is our duty to ensure that Hima gets the medal she was always born to deserve. At the same time, we should support her even in the face of a loss thereby extending a meaningful hand. Seizing every occasion to criticize her and wishing for miracles in the Olympics will only compound the problem.

 Picture Courtesy- Playo

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