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World billiards champ Arantxa Sanchis bemoans gender bias

India's newly crowned world billiards champion Arantxa Sanchis rues lack of appreciation, publicity and sponsorship for female cueists as compared to their male counterparts

On Sunday, at around 4:30 pm (1:30 pm in India) even as Pankaj Advani was still locked in an intense battle for the 2015 IBSF World Billiards (timed) Championship title with Singapore's veteran Peter Gilchrist, the 100-odd spectators at the gigantic room at Adelaide's Oceania Snooker Academy, which was hosting the event, burst into sudden applause.

IBSF women's World Billiards Championship winner India's Arantxa Sanchis during a stopover in the city yesterday from Adelaide en route her home in Pune. Pic/Nimesh Dave
IBSF women's World Billiards Championship winner India's Arantxa Sanchis during a stopover in the city yesterday from Adelaide en route her home in Pune. Pic/Nimesh Dave

At an adjacent table, a young 25-year-old Indian girl, Arantxa Sanchis, had just defeated compatriot R Umadevi to clinch the inaugural women's 2015 IBSF World Billiards (timed) Championship. The victory made her the first woman to have won the IBSF World Team Snooker title (2013) and the IBSF World Billiards Championship.

Women on top
Sanchis' gold was proof, if one was needed, that Indian women are flourishing on the billiards and snooker circuit — three of the semi-finalists (Sanchis, Umadevi and Meenal Thakur, who won bronze) were from India. However, while success has flowed for India's women, especially Sanchis on the green baize, recognition and sponsorships have not kept up.

Half an hour after Sanchis' gold, Advani defeated Gilchrist to claim his 14th world title. A day later, he started trending on Twitter, albeit briefly, with President Pranab Mukherjee and Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan leading the chorus congratulating the 14-time champ.

Meanwhile, there was one solitary tweet about Sanchis' achievement, that too by IBSF, the world snooker and billiards body, announcing her win. "The male players get a lot of support. They get jobs from government companies like PSPB (Petroleum Sports Promotion Board) under the sports quota and sponsorships.

Sanchis during the women's IBSF World Billiards Championship at Adelaide's Oceania Snooker Academy in Australia recently
Sanchis during the women's IBSF World Billiards Championship at Adelaide's Oceania Snooker Academy in Australia recently

But when a woman wins an event, we don't get the same recognition. We get a few congratulatory messages. Though that's quite motivating, financial support is important too," Sanchis told mid-day yesterday at her cousin's home in Borivli, where she had stopped over from Adelaide en route her home in Pune.

Not a welcome sign
There was no one to welcome Sanchis at Mumbai airport when she landed in the wee hours of Monday morning with her precious gold medal. "If there was money in the sport, it would definitely be a motivator for more women to take it up. Whatever salary I earn, almost the entire amount goes towards funding my first love — cue sport.

At the end of the day, I'm left with nothing," said the academically brilliant Pune girl, who topped her MBA program at the prestigious Symbiosis University, and now works as a product controller in the finance department of the Credit Suisse. With no money coming in from sponsors, Sanchis is left with just two hours to train in the evenings on weekdays after finishing her seven-hour shift at work.

No time to train
"You can't make billiards and snooker champions easily — it takes effort. They require a lot of practice. When you start practicing, you have to be fresh. You cannot start after work," said her father Colonel Esmond Sanchis. "In Arantxa's case, the sponsorship has not been at par with her performance. Playing this sport is expensive. The cost of participation in a tournament, and that too in an Asian country, is approximately Rs 1 lakh.

She needs a sponsorship of at least Rs 7-8 lakh a year for her international trips," said Colonel Sanchis, adding that the costs do not take into account the fees of an international coach that begins from Rs 1 lakh. Sanchis however, does see some light at the end of the tunnel. "At present no one's really come forward to support me but I'm hoping that now with this title things will change," Sanchis signed off.

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