RASHMI OBEROI | 22 APRIL, 2018
The Spirit of Sportsmanship
66 medals in CWG
The 2018 Commonwealth Games has India finishing the Games with 26 gold, 20 silver and 20 bronze medals. This year's total of 66 medals is the third highest haul for India in the history of the CWG. Kudos to all those who won medals and also to those who didn’t – after all it takes a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears to reach this level. Winning or losing is immaterial as of prime importance is the ability to learn from such sporting events.
Even though with time, our sportspersons have become household names across India and their stories are often recounted with pride, we live in a country that is extremely chauvinistic about sport. Sportsmen who win laurels for India internationally are revered almost religiously. Yet, very little of that reverence extends towards Indian sportswomen – a section of India’s sports fraternity that is perpetually under the shadow, either due to their male counterparts or because of the blatant lack of light on their achievements.
Sadly we are not a sporting nation... The opportunities are less, no adequate coaches, under equipped coaching centres, lack of infrastructure and funds, indifference and a lethargic approach by government agencies to name a few. Despite the fact that we as a nation have a huge pool of talented sportspersons in every nook and corner of the country, we are unable to produce as many world-class sportspersons as we should be.
The sad truth is that incidents of abuse, harassment, manipulation and favouritism are not an aberration. Any woman who has actively followed or played a sport will have faced this sort of bias from the opposite gender. There is a need to elaborate on the kind of bias sportswomen – or even women – have to face in India. It ranges from familial and social pressure, idle gossip, objectification, et al. However, it is not just this discrimination they have to fight. There is a bigger evil – apathy. Sexual harassment by the coaches is also nothing new.
The first challenge that female athletes have to face is being paid half or less of what is given to their male counterparts. Be it whichever sport, there are gross discrepancies between the incomes of male and female athletes. This is the case even with prize money.
The second is representation.
Thirdly, female athletes are objectified on the field, much as they are on the streets. From coaches, to commentators, to the audience, women are looked at as commodities showcasing themselves for men’s pleasure, not as entities of potential and talent.
This level of sexism can come from even the highest of places and the most famous names. Jwala Gutta, an international badminton player and 14-time winner of the National Badminton Championships has spoken about being stuck at this juncture of ‘looks vs sport’ on several public platforms, where she states that her professional success has often been based on the ‘way she looks’ on and off the field.
But perhaps the most heartening of things is how these women come together to support each other, in true spirit of the ‘shine theory’. It is nothing short of inspiring to see these women stand united and stand up for each other. This is the kind of support women need, to become a force not just in Indian sports but in all spheres of life. Sportswomen have often spoken about how their families, parents and in-laws have either been supportive or completely against their decisions - in fact, a woman athlete might not be able to make it to even the national stage without a support system in place.
There is a shift in perception and performance that gives hope for the current and upcoming generation of sportswomen in India. Yes, we need success stories for women’s sports to get more recognition, but we also need more support and investment before getting there. All the stakeholders in Indian sport should be responsible for this – the sports ministry, associations, the support staff, the media and even the spectators and fans.
The country celebrated Mirabai Chanu and her historic feat at the Commonwealth Games 48 kg weightlifting event, but something she said soon after winning her gold medal must make us stop and think. It’s something all Indian weightlifters are facing. “I don’t have a physio with me here in the competition. He was not allowed here, I did not get enough treatment coming into the competition. There is nobody, we did tell officials but nothing happened. I had requested that my physio be allowed but he was not. But we are helping each other and managing so far.”
Wrestler Babita Kumari, who is a recent silver medallist in the women’s 53kg, alleged that the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) officials did not provide tickets to her parents so that they could watch her bout. Babita’s father, Mahavir Phogat, is also her coach. Stories such as these are shameful.
I had only read and heard about the pitiable condition of the ugly world of Indian sports but I had a taste of it first hand when I accompanied my daughter during her All-India level competitions. I was shocked to see the palpable pathetic conditions our children are made to go through and suffer. Bureaucratic red tape, inferior infrastructure making practice of any form a tough situation, and lack of basic amenities like clean water, clean toilets/changing rooms and well-equipped centres. Most parents, who support their children taking up sports as a profession, face unending hurdles and spend more time and energy in running around completing formalities than concentrating in training their wards.
There have been instances of sportspersons being offloaded...equipment being damaged/lost...or even worse reaching the said destination after the sporting event is over. Our very own para-athletes have faced apathy at every corner and their voices have turned hoarse trying to bring attention to the difficulties they face. Isn’t it obvious that the problem lies with the management of sports and not the athletes? One really has to salute their spirit.
The management of sports must be made more professional and accountable before we see it becoming result-orientated. One has to do away with political clout and political leaders running the institutions and have actual renowned sportspersons who would be able to get down to the grass root level of tackling issues. The government has to step in and make a concerted effort to give our players the dignity they deserve as well as backing and assistance.
Even though sports of any nature is all about those unbelievable moments where the desire and sheer will power overcomes all the odds... But to do that our sportspersons must also get the best possible chance of playing to their potential by providing them with all the assistance they need. This is when all the hard work and perseverance reaches those defining moments.