WOMEN’S SPORTS WAKING UP
The last decade has seen an accelerated growth in women’s sports, but it’s still far from full tilt
On August 14, 2016 at 2.30 pm in Brazil a diminutive Indian was getting ready for her tryst with history. She was attempting the Produnova, the toughest of all vaults, and was competing with the best in the world. Dipa Karmakar was making a statement. She ended a close fourth and it was a sign of things to follow. Sakshi Malik, who had taken up wrestling because she wanted to travel the world, became the first Indian on a Rio podium. Women’s wrestling in India had undergone a sea change overnight and it was no surprise Dangal turned out to be a rage four months later.
And then it was PV Sindhu. Watching her better-known counterparts Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikkanth fall by the wayside had not impacted her. She quietly dispatched Tai-tzu, the best in the world, Wang Yihan, an ageing Chinese legend and finally Okuhara Nozomi, the All England Champion, to make the gold medal match. India was on the boil soon enough. A 21-year-old girl was in an Olympic final and was assured of a silver medal. Sindhu was a first in many ways.
She lost the final to Carolina Marin, but she had won a bigger battle. Her showing at Rio is encouraging a generation between 10 and 18 to take up badminton and a revolution is underway. She has become the face of multiple brands since and life has not been the same since.
Even before the euphoria over Sindhu had died down, we had a 42-year-old mother of two throw the shot to a distance of 4.61 meters and win India’s first Paralympics silver medal. Having survived 183 stitches and multiple operations, Deepa Malik was a symbol that Indian women could overcome disability and achieve glory.
Sindhu, Sakshi, Deepa and Dipa are following in the footsteps of a number of illustrious predecessors and contemporaries. If it was PT Usha and Shi ny Wi l s on in the early 80s, it was Ashwini Nachappa and the 4x400 relay team in late 80s and early 90s. The mantle of women’s sport then passed on to the likes of N Kunjarani Devi and Karnam Malleswari, the latter going on to win India’s only medal at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Corporatesupport,however,camethewomen’s way with Sania Mirza blazing the WTA scenefrom2005.Beatingtopplayers,winning medalsatmulti-nation competitionsand then multiple doubles grand slams, Mirza is easily the best Indian woman tennis player of all time. But who after her remains a question.
Sania was the lone Hyderabadi before Saina Nehwal started her winning ways and went on to win an Olympic medal in 2012. With Mary Kom, now mother of three and coming from the discriminated North East, winning India’s first women’s boxing medal also at London, women’s sport was on the cusp of a breakthrough.
All of the above, however, was in the individual realm. In team sport, be it hockey, football or cricket, Indian women continued to underachieve before Mithali Raj’s miracle girls made the World Cup finals at Lord’s and forced the country to take notice. With all of India firmly behind the team and the many youngsters — for example Mehuli Das in shooting, Gayatri Gopichand in badminton — waiting to break through the ranks, Indian women athletes are living a dream that has every chance of becoming real.