Of late TV watchers would have noticed two ads that show just about teen-aged girls displaying their keenness for playing football and basket ball. While pushing their respective products the advertisers seemed like unwittingly giving a social message too – that of need for girls to be active in sports.
From recent trends it is quite evident that girls have come into sports in a big way. Lately they have earned fresh laurels and the current year has brought in a rich harvest of achievements in women’s sports. Earlier in the year, the women’s cricket team came within sniffing distance of victory in the 2017 edition of the Women’s World Cup. They were well on their way to win it but seemingly were seized with an attack of nerves only to narrowly lose the match to England by mere 9 runs. Nonetheless, there were some very outstanding performances during the tournament. While the skipper Mithali Raj ended up as the tallest scorer in the world of Women’s cricket, there were very commendable performances from Punam Raut, Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Deepti Sharma, Jhoolan Goswami etc. The whole lot of them deservedly won for themselves the country’s gratitude as well as admiration.
Others have taken off from the eventful month of July this year. The country’s ace woman shuttler PV Sindhu fought hard at Glasgow at the finals of the World Badminton Championships only to lose to her Japanese opponent very narrowly. Like at the Cricket World Cup, it was a matter of so close yet so far. But Sindhu is only 22 and she has a long way to go. Recently she lost to Saina Nehwal in the National Championship. The win brought Nehwal again into reckoning after Sindhu had lately wrested the initiative from her.
On the heels of this superb performance came the news of victory at the Asia Cup final of Indian Women’s Hockey team. They beat rivals China in a penalty shoot-out. The women’s Hockey team has won the Asia Cup after a long hiatus – of more than ten years. Now that a competent coach is reported to be taking care of the team its performances are going to be keenly watched. The team is likely to prepare hard for the next Olympics.
Others, too, like pistol shooter Hina Sidhu, are also lining up and practicing hard to win laurels for the country. Sidhu recently won Gold along with Jitu Rai in a mixed event of the International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup last month at New Delhi. At the same time, differently-abled Rubina Francis of Jabalpur won another Gold in 10 metre pistol shoot in the World Shooting Para Sport World Cup.
Just the other day news arrived of the fifth Gold won by Mary Kom at the Asian Boxing Championships held at Ho Chi Minh City. She has been consistently winning medals despite her age and increasing obligations. Besides running the family, she takes her duties as a parliamentarian very seriously. And yet she always thanks Jesus for her extra-ordinary performances.
Numerous others have been known for extraordinary performances in various sporting events. Akanksha Singh for one, belonging to the famous Varanasi Sisters, a few years back was acknowledged as the “most valuable player” in the Indian Women’s Basket Ball team. She currently is its captain. Likewise, Deepika Pallikal has earned a name for herself in Women’s Squash championships. She has been playing squash from an early age and is still active in the international arena having won several domestic and international titles.
These are instances of coming good in sports by girls mostly belonging to the middle classes. They have done so despite lack of adequate opportunities. A vast majority do not get even this much despite the huge population of more than 1.26 billion. In a telling article the Financial Times said “With more than 1.2 billion people, of whom 65 per cent are under 35, India would presumably have vast reserves of athletic talent. Yet it has been unable to convert its human potential into global competitive success: a problem not confined to the sports field.” India won only 23 medals since Independence and at the Rio Olympics, though it sent as many as 117 participants, only two won medals and both of them were women.
Indian women are up against various kinds of handicaps that restrain them from participating in sporting events. Firstly, there is pathetic absence of infrastructure for sports, particularly, at the grassroots level in the rural areas. Besides, for centuries the women in the country have been subjected to patriarchy which, in fact, meant outdoor games or athletics were not meant for them. Why, unborn girls in various provinces have been the subjects of male chauvinism. It is a great tribute to the guts and determination of Sakshi Malik and her ilk to pursue a carrier in wrestling in the state of Haryana where the sex ratio is highly skewed in favour of boys and men in the state have had to import brides from the eastern states. Sakshi Malik, perhaps was inspired by her seniors like Phogat sisters, six of whom launched themselves in the wrestling ring and three of them won several Commonwealth Championship medals.
Apart from Hindu conservatism similar considerations among Muslims do not allow their girls to take part in outdoor events or athletics. Nonetheless, it is a matter of great satisfaction that women In the Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir have organized themselves into a team to participate in the inter-state women’s cricket championships.
Women are also held back from sports by lecherous sports officials who also happen to be venal. The fair sex has always had the wrong end of the stick and has cruelly been confined to play their stereotypical role of playing the housewife. Girls from their very childhood have drilled into their heads that activities like sports are for only boys and not for girls as they have to be modest and feminine. The so called “gender gap” is thus built up from the childhood, particularly in the rural areas where education of the girl child is yet to make inroads. Educational deprivation as also nutritional deprivation for girls starts from here holding the girls back from any strenuous sporting activities. The narrow-mindedness of the parents in the rural households is largely responsible for keeping the girls away from schools and its various activities, including sports.
With the 24X7 news and sports channel beaming to majority of Indian households news about sporting activities in the country, things seem to be changing. The regional press publishes numerous items of girls’ creditable performances in the sporting arena. Numerous success stories of girls in sports have stoked what they happened to have witnessed on the TV. The governments at the Centre and in the states have also allocated generous funds for girls’ education and their sporting activities. Hopefully, a decade from now things are likely to be very different.