Amongst the many medals and victories at the 2016 Rio Olympics was another smaller victory that got overlooked by many. These last Olympics featured more women Olympians than ever before in history – about 4,700 out of some 10,000 odd athletes were women or 45 percent of the total participation. Since women were first allowed to participate in 1900 (with only 2.2 percent representation then), we have come a long way indeed in terms of female representation in sports.
As more and more women achieve success in sports, it is important to remember that the fight for equal gender representation in the field is not over. The majority of sportspersons are still male, and there is often strong bias against the abilities and potential of female athletes. However, women refuse to accept things as they are, and many of them continue to fight in the face of scepticism to achieve success, including some amazing athletes from India.
Proving all your critics wrong with good performances day in and day out is no mean feat, and these women are more than up to the challenge. We take a look at some of the most inspirational women athletes in India today, and their thoughts on the potential for women in sport in the country in the future:
Saina Nehwal, on taking challenges head-on
27-year-old Saina Nehwal is one of India’s most well-known sportswomen. The former badminton world no. 1 has represented India in the Olympics on three occasions, winning bronze once, and won over 23 international titles. An inspiration to badminton players and athletes everywhere, Saina has always been a strong believer in tackling challenges head-on, no matter the circumstances.
“Once you are satisfied with your goal, it is the real happiness.”
“My philosophy is to not be scared of anyone. If I play well, great; if I don’t, I learn from the match and move on.”
“I want to be the best. It is not about ranking. It’s about being consistent.”
“I was really surprised when I was told that my grandmother did not come to see me until a month after my birth. I was born seven years after my only sister Chandranshu, and my birth was a big disappointment for her.”
Mary Kom, on perseverance
Chungneijang Mary Kom Hmangte, better known as Mary Kom, is the only woman boxer in the world to have won a medal in all six world championships. A five-time World Amateur Boxing Champion, Mary has inspired hundreds of young women to take up a sport traditionally almost exclusively male-dominated in India. However, her success is not overnight; Mary has struggled and trained for years to reach the level she is at today, and she is a steady believer in the power of not giving up.
“I do not only rely on my technique or strength but also on my mind.”
“If I, being a mother of two, can win a medal, so can you all. Take me as an example and don’t give up.”
“People used to say that boxing is for men and not for women and I thought I will show them someday. I promised myself and I proved myself.”
Sania Mirza, on standing your ground
Managing the pressure of being one of the most well-known and scrutinised women athletes in India can’t be easy, but Sania Mirza has taken it all in her stride. The former Women’s Doubles World No. 1 has often been called India’s most successful female athlete but has also been at the receiving end of a fair share of controversy. From her playing styles to her abilities to her personal life, Sania has had to fight a lot of negativity and criticism in her career but had steadfastly refused to give in. Her continued will to stand her ground and fight for her success is an inspiration for women across India and the world.
“As I came to the limelight, the media asked me many questions. A lot many moral policing…‘Wear this, wear that, why a T-shirt?’ Everybody has the right to form their opinions, and I have the right to ignore them.”
“When I used to say I wanted to play at Wimbledon, they used to laugh in my face and say, ‘What are you talking about, you’re from Hyderabad, and you’re supposed to...cook.’ That’s one of the notions that people have in this side of the world – it is our ‘culture’, within quotes, you know, to say what a woman can or cannot do.”
PV Sindhu, on the power of the mind
The first Indian woman to ever win an Olympic silver medal (at the 2016 Olympics), and only the second Indian badminton player to ever win an Olympic medal (after Saina Nehwal), PV Sindhu’s story is one of willpower, determination, and a hunger for success. The youngest Indian to ever make a podium finish for an individual event at the Olympics, Sindhu has never stopped looking for the next challenge to conquer, and her steadfast belief in her own abilities has helped her along the way.
“The greatest asset is a strong mind. If I know someone is training harder than I am I have no excuses.”
Women are slowly, but surely, gaining their rightful place on the global map and are leaving footprints for the younger generation to follow. It’s therefore of utmost importance that they take their steps with diligence and care and shoulder the responsibility they were always meant to carry. These Indian athletes are setting the bar; it’s time for the next generation of women in India to raise it even further.