The last decade has seen an ac­cel­er­ated growth in women’s sports, but it’s still far from full tilt

The Economic Times - - Economy: Macro, Micro & More - Bo­ria Ma­jum­dar

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.

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