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A Silver Lining

A Silver Lining

The ICC Women’s World Cup final played at the Lords was well and truly in India’s grasp before the team decided to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. More than the skills of the opponents it was the pressure that our eves succumbed to thus frittering away a golden opportunity at scripting sporting history.

Be that as it may, but even in defeat the women in blue came across as heroines of a nation that has for long refused to give due credit to the fairer sex for their sporting achievements.

Always in need of a pin-up girl to remind the nation about the prowess of our female athletes, a P T Usha or a Saina Mirza have however failed to enthuse the public into taking a keen interest in women’s sports.

While the biopics of Mary Kom and the Phogat sisters earned accolades and money at the box-office, they woefully failed to have the country shed its inhibition against female athletes.

The sub-standard training facilities extended to them notwithstanding, some of our star women performers who have brought Olympic laurels for the country have done so in their individual capacity, fighting against all odds.

However, it is a different ball game altogether when it comes to participation of national women teams for global events!

The governing bodies of various sporting disciplines too see these outings as mere formalities with nothing much expected from the teams. It is only when a dedicated bunch of players create ripples through their exploits in the field that the country sits up to take notice, as it happened in the ICC Women’s World Cup in England.

Underlining such prejudices against women athletes in many a federation that constitute the governing bodies of various sporting disciplines in the country, no other medium but the silver screen has competently managed to bring the skewed mindset of a male-dominated society to the forefront.

Chak De India  was one such film that showed the big-wigs in the Indian Hockey Federation pooh-poohing the efforts of a disgraced player-turned-coach to mould together a rustic band of female players from different corners of the country into a team of world-defeaters.

The celluloid creation aptly dealt with the flippant attitude that most of the members of these elite boards maintain vis-à-vis the prospects of female national sides in international meets. But when it comes to matters of taking credit, there is no dearth of officials who are ready to pounce on the chance to bask in the glory of their achievements.

The governing and controlling body of every sporting discipline in the country is responsible for the development and promotion of the game at all levels. The internal bickering and politics that characterize most of these associations have never helped much in the development of the game either.

With the amount of talent available in the country today, it is difficult to believe that these federations are unable to produce world-class teams. Of course the politics of zonal-representation that has had adverse effects on team selection procedures with some sub-standard players managing to get the selectors’ nod on the strength of their contacts has not helped the boards’ cause.

But having selected a team of performers and not expressing confidence in the capability of the players chosen to don the national colours is not doing any good to the game either!

Moreover in spite of all the tall claims, the training and other facilities accorded to the players in the country continue to be pathetic. The very fact that there is a marked preference shown by promising players for foreign coaches and training centres abroad only confirms this unfortunate state of affairs that besieges sports in the country today.

Further, the insecurity that comes from insufficient avenues for employment has deterred women from taking on to sports as a career. Nor are enough efforts made to generate employment for them which would otherwise have shown a certain spurt considering the job guarantee assured.

The story of the rejection, despair and glory of the star of the team, Harmanpreet Kaur, sums up the attitude of the nation towards female athletes in general.

It is said that in spite of representing the country at a very young age, and having done exceptionally well at that, she was struggling for a job. The argument by a top police official when requests were made for Harmanpreet to be inducted in Punjab police that ‘after all she was a woman cricketer and not a Harbhajan Singh’ is typical of the bias shown by the male dominated society towards females no matter what their calibre.

And we can’t tire of talking about women empowerment!   

However, the concept of sports is forever evolving in our country.

With  Ultimate Table Tennis, the country’s first-ever professional table tennis league, having got off to a resounding start, it appears that ‘League games’ have suddenly caught the fancy of Indian sports lovers.

For those who still swear by the glitz and glamour that IPL has brought to the game of Cricket, promoters of various other games that were otherwise dying a slow death or were lying in obscurity have found that they have something to really cheer about.

Learning from the success of the hugely popular IPL which has had a fantastic run of successive editions so far, various other sporting bodies, along with private entrepreneurs, have been ingenious enough to bring about renovations in their respective sports discipline to make the competitions more appealing to the crowds.

Understanding perfectly well that they stand to rake in more moolah when the games are seen ‘live’ in the drawing rooms across the country than on the fields and pitches where they are actually played, promoters of these leagues too employed the strategy employed by the organizers of IPL and roped in telecasting giants to beam the sporting extravaganzas live across the world.

Holding out the promise of a visual thrill for sports enthusiasts, the organizers were not only pleasing the crowd in the stadiums, but were also regaling the audience in their homes.

Moreover revenue from the broadcasting rights apart, the advertisements and sponsorships ensured that the leagues are never cash-strapped. This in turn assured the participating players a princely income from the games.

Making professionals out of novices, these franchise-based leagues also afforded opportunities for various sporting bodies in the country to select quality players to don national colours in various disciplines.

Enticing an entire new generation of sports fans into the grounds throughout the country, the popularity of other league games have sufficiently proven that cricket is not the only sport that hold the interest of Indians.

But will sports involving women in our country thrive under these conditions? First and foremost, these popularity measures should bring about a definite change in the mindset of people.

(Published on 07th August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 32)