Watching Sania Mirza give the final touches to her Grand Slam career at Melbourne the other day in the Australian Open must have been a touching sight. She and her mixed doubles partner Rohan Bopanna did not win the final to make it a dream finish and add another to the six Slam titles she had in her kitty. But this was more about the moment, the adulations, the spontaneous gesture of the crowd to give her a standing ovation as this was to be her last appearance in Melbourne has decided to call it a day soon. The great Indian was in tears as she waved and thanked all. For her, it was a moment to cherish. For all Indian sports fans, it was a moment to feel proud of an achiever in her own right.
Back home the women' cricketers were in a joyful mood over the announcement of the women’s premier league. So, parallel to the IPL, here is another cash-rich event, devoted to our women cricketers who have worked their way up not just to get noticed but talked about in glowing terms. See how the BCCI has been encouraging this set of women who have time and again in recent times grabbed headlines with their prowess! The new venture is expected to provide a booster to women’s cricket in the country, much the same way as IPL had done to men’s cricket. True Indian women cricketers are yet to win a major world trophy, but that day is not far off considering they had twice finished runner-up in the World ODI championship and once in the World T20 championship as well. And now the juniors have announced they are not to be left behind with a spectacular title win in the inaugural U-19 women’s world cup in South Africa.
All this is just one side of the story. That not everything is smooth or exciting or joyful for women in sports in the country can be gauged from what has cropped up in the sport of wrestling. The sordid details that have appeared in the media can put one off. Imagine some of India’s best-known wrestlers, the ones who had won medals, even at the Olympics, to bring laurels to the country in tears at a protest site citing allegations of sexual harassment against the very man who is running the show in the sport, the President of the Wrestling Federation of India Mr Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a sitting MP of the ruling party at the centre! The shock development had its quick response from the Union Government with the Sports Minister Mr Anurag Thakur responding with the announcement of an Oversight Committee, headed by Olympian Mary Kom, to look into the affairs of the WFI and also probe the serious charges. In fact, such has been the grievance of these leading wrestlers represented by names like Vinesh Phogat, Sakshee Mallik, Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya among others that they even felt unhappy with the names announced for the Committee. Clearly, the issue was about understanding the gravity of the situation.
True until the probe is over Mr Bhushan’s claim of being innocent has to hold. But then the complaints have come from the top Indian wrestlers with big achievements to their names. Then again can there be smoke without a fire? Indeed, will these stalwarts stake their reputation by making false charges, one may ask? What they have been living through only they will know and clearly, they have been enduring the agony all this while. Indeed it respects more than anything that comes to one’s mind looking at how aside from the grind they have been through for the country’s laurels, they had also to withstand another challenge of self-protection! These are the women who have shed their blood, sweat and energy just for one goal_ to win medals, bring laurels and give the sport a boost. They have been succeeding spectacularly but patience as they say has its limits. This much seems clear from the way Vinesh broke down while detailing the travails of women wrestlers in general on their chosen road to progress in sports.
Now, wrestling is not an isolated incident, traces of such despicable acts do crop up here and there in the country. One hears of action but what thereafter, never lasts in the public domain! Times are changing and with that, the mindset has to change or be changed. One aspect that cannot be forgotten is the role of women in sports in India, their deeds and their continuing show of excellence at the international level. Today we have a woman for the first time as the President of the Indian Olympic Association and who else can that be than the queen of Indian athletics once, P.T. Usha. Can anything more be said of how women sportspersons are progressing in the country? Indeed, Usha has herself as IOA president assured the wrestlers of an independent probe into the incident and that should be an inspiration. Like her, the need now is for more women to come to the fore in the role of administrators and coaches to bring about gender parity that will go a long way in eradicating the unwanted menace in sports.
It is here that one needs to compliment the International Cricket Council when it named an all-female panel of match officials for the forthcoming Women’s T20 world cup in South Africa. Three match referees and 10 Umpires make up the 13-member panel and seven of them are first-timers! Cricket is showing the way and surely other sports too could pick a leaf!