Sporting encounters? Not quite

Oct 08, 2018, 07:00 IST | Fiona Fernandez

The change in mindset must emerge from the mini ecosystems that exist within the workplace; only then will a collective voice create the much-needed churn for respect towards women colleagues

Sporting encounters? Not quite

Fiona Fernandez"Sports? But why?" The questions were countless; bordering on puzzlement each time yours truly uttered the area of preference for her first job. Those were our early days, as we took baby steps in the big, bad world of journalism. Slowly and surely, we discovered the reasons for those multi-layered queries.

As a 21-year-old negotiating the uncharted world of sports journalism nearly two decades ago, every day was like baptism by fire in a male-dominated section of the newspaper. While our reporting head and the editor were both pro-women in every sense of the term and never showed any bias, the veiled barbs and dismissive behaviour by male colleagues within the team and beyond is what made us realise that nobody was really ready to believe that women understood sport, let alone be taken seriously to have a grip over any discipline, single-handedly.

"Are you sure you'll be able to write a match report? Do you know the difference between a deuce and a tie-breaker? What is the duration of a hockey match?" the queries were countless, often mocking quips from senior colleagues, as sniggers and boys club banter about being unable to crack sport had become a daily routine. Backroom manoeuvring and tactics would ensure that all the big games, especially in cricket, would be covered only by the gods.

"How can a novice [this, despite completing over a year by then] be sent unaccompanied to Wankhede?" we recall this snide one being slipped in during an important series by an international team. Instead, we were 'pacified' by being assigned to cover a charity exhibition match between Bollywood stars and a few big cricketers.

Soon enough, we decided to rise above the barriers created by these self-made gurus of the game, and found our groove in sports like hockey, billiards, swimming, badminton, tennis and the junior/school circuit. It was fun, free of politicking, and most importantly, offered us a window into disciplines that we otherwise never had much access to, thanks to cricket-dominant TV coverage in those days. The patronising attitude continued; yes, and how, but we had created a mini shell by the time. Engaging life stories of triumph, great experiences and an unimaginable learning curve — our fill of sporting education, both on and off the court, was in progress. Yet, when the time came to bid goodbye to that job [only to join another male-dominated profession — quizzing!], there was a sense of half-finished business.

Did they have the last laugh? No way. The pats on the back and public acknowledgements by the bosses for good work made a difference. But, the overall lack of acceptance for a woman sports journalist among a large segment in that newsroom is where the gaping hole was, we felt. Perceptions and mindsets about women and sport were still medieval, but have decreased now. Which is why today, when we look at senior women journalists like Prajwal Hegde and Sharda Ugra who continue to belt it out, and break new ground, we salute their resilience for seeing it through in this challenging line of work.

As women across professions continue to call out creeps for harassment in the workplace and outside, let's hope that this movement leads to a seismic change in mindset first of all. There is no room for generalisations about women and what they bring to the table. A level playing field is what we need, and what we must continue to play for. Sports can be a great teacher, as we found out the hard way.

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 mailbag@mid-day.com

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