We are living in the 21st century where questions about women’s rights and gender equality are finally being raised but is anything worthwhile actually been done about it? If I were to ask you to name at least 5 female Indian players from the Women’s Cricket team, would you be able to? Whereas if I had asked the same question but switched the female to male, how much easier would conjuring up the answer have been? For quite some time now females are paid much less as compared to their male counterparts and the representation of women’s sport is meager if not nonexistent. There have also been several comments made by coaches and sports directors such as French open tournament director Amelie Mauresmo when he said that women’s tennis is not as appealing as the men’s game.
Fortunately enough, the trends are changing and the Indian government is aiming to do their bit in providing better resources for female athletes. The government has sectioned a fund of Rs.15.03 crores exclusively to conduct the Khelo India women’s leagues across nine disciplines for the next four years to identify new talent (Hussain, 2022). The nine disciplines include hockey, archery, weightlifting, cycling, boxing, swimming, wrestling, volleyball and judo. It is important for the government to set up such leagues for women’s sport as it will not only increase the participation but it will also set up a competitive environment for young girls to participate and give them a platform to battle pressure and internal fears. The coaches will also get a chance to select competent players who can go forward and represent the country internationally. It will also aid in the athletes long-term development and coax their want of success and fame.
In 2021, the Union Minister of Women and Child Development Smt. Smriti Irani and Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Shri. Kiren Rijiju jointly announced a number of initiatives that the two Ministries will be taking together for women and girls, the first of which was launched on the occasion of International Women’s Day. This online training programme is exclusively for women Physical Education Teachers and Community Coaches. The initiative which is a convergence of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and Fit India programmes, aims to empower women teachers in primary, secondary and senior secondary schools by giving them fitness training so that they can in turn empower students, especially the girl child. The programme has a registered participation of 12500 PE Teachers and Community Coaches, who will be imparted training for free. The online program will have a total of 28 sessions (in Hindi and English) i.e., two sessions of 90 minutes each (2021).
The crucial factor for Indian sports now, especially for females is to increase participation at the grassroot level. An exclusive component of the Khelo India Scheme focuses on barriers faced by girls & women to take part in sporting activities, and creating mechanisms to overcome these and increase participation. There has been a 161% increase in women participation at the Khelo India Games from 2018 to 2020. From 657 identified female athletes being supported under the Khelo India scheme in 2018, the number has now gone up to 1471 (223% increase!) (Rijiju, 2021). There are several steps that have been taken by women champion athletes to establish academies with a focus on sporting excellence, supported and fostered by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports under the National Sports
Development Fund. Usha School of Athletics, Mary Kom Boxing Foundation, Ashwini Sports Foundation, Sarita Boxing Academy, Karnam Malleshwari Foundation, Anju Bobby George Sports Foundation, etc are all examples of such initiatives.
In order to promote women’s sport in Uttar Pradesh, the state government has decided to give financial assistance of up to Rs.5 lakhs to female athletes after the formation of the newly elected government. Previously, the Yogi government provided financial assistance to women players. For training sportspersons in 16 different forms of sports in 19 districts of the state, facilities were arranged in 44 hostels for 890 players. Further, as many as 18 players who won medals in 21st Commonwealth Games were given Rs 2 crore 60 lakh as prizes along with medals in the 18th Asian Games. Rs 3.90 crore rupees were given by the government to the winning 46 players. Under the Khelo India, 37 new stadiums are being built in the state with the joint effort of the central and state governments. These stadiums are being built so that the youth will be encouraged to use sports facilities in their own state. Under the Khelo India scheme, sports infrastructure facilities were created in the rural areas of the state. The state government organized 186 competitions in the state under ‘Khoob Khelo Khoob Padho’ initiative. The amount of 1000 INR for sports kit was increased to 2500 INR. Rs 55,98,000 INR was given to 18 players of the state. The establishment of ‘Sports University’ in Meerut is an important step of the government in the direction of giving a platform to the talent of the players of the state, the government stated (ANI, 2022).
When it comes to cricket, the BCCI has also released information on there being an Indian Premiere League (IPL) held in the year 2023 of six women’s teams. The decision to do so was to make cricket and IPL more inclusive. This initiative will also act as a launchpad for young domestic women cricketers, who can gain the exposure they need as they play with overseas players. Finally, the performance of players and teams will drive viewership. The BCCI can get some of the existing team owners to start women’s franchises in order to leverage the existing fan base. Concerted efforts can bring in advertisers, audiences and investors (Vanamali, 2022).
Even with all these efforts being made towards female sports in India, the question still arises as to whether the attitude towards women in sports is favoured. When BBC carried out a survey across 14 states in India, with 10,181 respondents, titled, ‘Are women as good as men at sport?’, 42% of the respondents felt that women’s sports were not as “entertaining” as men’s and there were also negative perceptions about sportswomen relating to their appearance and childbearing abilities (Pandey, 2020).
Even though the government is doing their level best to incorporate initiatives and policies to improve the participation of females in India, there is still a section of society that believes that females are not meant for sports. Mary Kom battled several stereotypes such as, “boxing-is-a-man’s-sport” rhetoric to “mothers-cannot-be-elite-athletes” to constant questions about form and fitness for being on the ‘wrong side of 30’. Even after winning the silver, Mirabai Chanu was trolled by the faceless for the sport she has chosen as it robbed her of her “fertile” years when she should be producing babies instead of making the country proud (Prakash, 2021). While the Indian society still puts multiple restrictions on a girl - from wearing t-shirts and shorts to playing under the sun, acts considered as being “not so lady like”, there has been a gradual change in attitude towards women taking up sport but their numbers are few and gradually increasing. For every Sindhu and Saina, whose parents stood behind them firmly in their pursuit of sporting excellence, there are several players like Rani Rampal (women’s hockey team captain) from Haryana and quarter-miler Revathi Veeramani of Tamil Nadu who aren’t as privileged. To achieve what they have, they had to fight societal indignations reserved only for women.
So that leaves us with a thought: Are females in the world of sport being made to feel like they are just living in a man’s world or are the trends changing? With the government of India and the various different states doing their level best to set aside funds and initiate leagues solely for women, there is still a section of society that does not view women’s sport or give the amount of weightage that is given to men’s sport. It is not only time to increase the sponsorships and viewership of women’s sports but also to change the underlying perception of women in sports in India.
ANI (2022). Yogi govt 2.0 to provide financial assistance of up to Rs5 lakhs to female athletes. The Print. Retrieved from- https://theprint.in/india/yogi-govt-2-0-to-provide-financial-assistance-of-up-to-rs-5-lakhs-to-female-athletes/881074/
Hussain, Sabi. (2022). Govt announces nine Khelo India leagues for women. The Times of India. Retrieved from- https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/more-sports/others/govt-announces-nine-khelo-india-leagues-for-women/articleshow/91976123.cms
Pandey, Geeta (2020). What do Indians think about women in sport? BBC News. Retrieved from- https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-51701924
PIB Delhi (2021). Sports Ministry collaborates with the Ministry of Women and Child Development to empower women through sports and physical fitness. Retrieved from- https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1703343
Rijiju, Kiren (2021). Inclusiveness of women in sports is key to making India a sporting superpower. The Pioneer. Retrieved from- https://www.dailypioneer.com/2021/state-editions/inclusiveness-of-women-in-sports-is-key-to-making-india-sporting-superpower.html