Fiona Fernandez: Women on top
Mithali Raj and her team's exploits can become a game changer to relook at how we approach women's sport in this country
Indian women's cricket team captain Mithali Raj and coach Tushar Arothe at the MCA, BKC. File pic
"Ma'am, that's the way to the spectator stands," a staffer at the Bombay Hockey Association (BHA) yelled out when he spotted me enter the Churchgate venue. This was before a match between two women's railway teams at a junior level tournament. These were the early days of my time as a sports journalist; and my first hockey assignment. The staffer had assumed that being a woman I had come to cheer my team. How could I possibly be a member of the press? After correcting him, he half-believingly directed me to the enclosure, where I joined the rest of my ilk - an all-male bastion. I had just experienced a regular episode in as a woman sports journalist.
The match was a cracker of a contest - with both teams giving it their best. The rallies, penalty corner conversions and dazzling stickwork - I was hooked for the entire 90-minute duel that ensued on the astro turf. It was no different in intensity and passion when compared to encounters I had watched on the telly that featured India's male hockey stars. I looked around and there were 30, perhaps 40, spectators. Some of my colleagues in the press box chose to have an unusually long smoke break. Many of the players I witnessed that day went on to represent the national women's team.
Naivete, it is said, can be a good thing sometimes. I had found the episode amusing at that time, as I narrated it to my colleagues back in the newsroom. It did not upset me in the least. In fact, I would derive great joy in surprising many, like that BHA staffer, by showing up at 'all-male' sporting events! In the years that followed, and my many memorable experiences covering Indian sportswomen, I realised how they had to conquer more than match nerves and close calls. Clean loos, separate changing rooms, lack of sponsors and crowds, biased reportage in favour of male counterparts, sexist questions – it was a fight even before the starting whistle was blown on the field.
Those days as a sports journalist offered valuable insight. As someone who continues to closely track the triumphs and trials of Indian sportswomen, it magnified one simple question: If I experienced it as a journalist on the ringside, imagine the barriers and hurdles that these women face each day inside the sporting arena?
It's been a week since Mithali Raj and her band of gutsy cricketers did India proud at the Women's World Cup. Their stories are still being told, brands are talking shop, and the buzz is a positive, refreshing change. Column space across print and the web looks promising. But for how long, we ask? A month, maybe two at the most is our guess. What happens after the confetti has settled?
We're hoping that all of this can actually be translated in that much-needed Hallelujah moment; a seismic shift in the mindsets of how we perceive women and sport in this country. Sportswomen across disciplines need to be given due respect and recognition, on and off the field, and be treated on par, sans the comparisons. The glory will follow. Fair and square: After all, isn't it how the game should always be played?
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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