Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Empowering women through sports

This is straight from a sportsperson's mouth (yes, that's me even though I gave up competitive sports in 1997, but the 'sportsperson' spirit in me is still alive and will always be I reckon): It was great to participate at the session 'Harnessing Women's Potential in Sports' in the ongoing TURF 2013, the 5th Global Sports Summit and India Sports Awards, organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). The session got over about an hour ago and I am writing this even while the Awards ceremony is taking place perhaps.

I was excited to see the esteemed speakers: International marathon champion of the 1990s, Sunita Godara; Vice President of Women's Hockey Federation, New Zealand, Penny Simonds; Franz Gastler whose work around girls' development in Jharkhand through football is celebrated news in recent times; and Indu Puri, a former table tennis champion, somebody who was a role model along with the likes of Monalisa Baruah Mehta when we were playing table tennis as girls.
The session took me back to my years as a table tennis player in the 1990s: the heady feeling of  being Assam state champion, winning medals at the national level, being a female sportsperson and all the opportunities and challenges that I faced as a female sportsperson. It made me remember my friends too  (across all levels - district, state, national and international players), especially my female friends, and our course of life somehow influencing the kind of sportsperson and individuals we grew to become. And how the social conditions we grew up in helped us achieve whatever we could in the field of sports. We must confess that we were extremely lucky to have parents who supported us and encouraged us to engage in sports, all kinds. They did not think of it as a waste of their money. Or as a waste of our time.

But most importantly, the session made me reflect, yet again, how sports has immensely contributed to building confidence in me and my friends; has given me skills like concentration, focus, and determination that come handy in all that I do even today; has taught me that hard work can be fun; and has given me friends whom I will always cherish. But then, the picture stops being rosy right there because we all know that India still needs to perform much better in the international scene, has to spruce up its sports infrastructure and institutions, and play the right kind of politics that will do more benefit than harm to the sportsperson and to sports in general. These were some of the issues discussed in today's session. Here, I seek to take up the rest of the narration through a photo-essay.

Sunita Godara, former international marathon champion, said she's 54 years old and still actively involved with sports. She organizes 'runs' and takes great pride in her Taekwondo academy for slum girls. She raised important points like acknowledging and giving recognition to sports so that a mindset favorably disposed towards sports develop in the country. She also spoke of tapping youngsters at the school, district and state levels by highlighting role models, especially local role models whom they would know and identify with. There is also the need to break myths associated with sports, she said, like how girls will become masculine with sports, that they would lose their virginity with hymen rupture, etc. And this, she suggested, could be done only by sensitizing people, sensitizing the parents. She also made a good case for involving women at the top levels of sports administration in the country.

Penny Simonds spoke of sports and women in New Zealand and how India and New Zealand could get into partnership for harnessing potential. It was interesting to hear her speak about how she continues her association with sports, although she no longer plays professional hockey, and how she is like this "duck" (in her words) running around with her kids and their friends trailing behind her. She said, it is important for mothers to stay involved with sports and encourage their daughters to do the same. I liked the point she made about having sportswomen as role models in media other than the actors, because they are definitely more healthy and it would do a lot of good to have them as role models for young girls. Speaking about broadening the base of women involvement in sports, it can be done through sport activities in family, offices, schools, etc., she said, because sports together is great bonding time too. Simonds also talked about having more female coaches, sports administrators, and more all women sports academies.      

It was inspiring to hear Franz Gastler talk about how he has brought together sports and development of the girl child in Jharkhand, a, place, he said, he heard of as notorious for the high instances of child marriage and girl trafficking when he came to India 5 years ago. He spoke of his successful experiment and showed the gathering a video on the work he is doing. On why he chose football as the sport although he never was a football player, rather an ice hockey player, he said: "Football provides a safe space and a large space too for groups". In his words, "Sports program should be a springboard for development and empowerment".  
This is a shot I took of Franz's video. Here we see his girls having fun in the field. It was interesting to hear the girls talk about how empowered they feel and their experiences in general in the video.

Former table tennis champion, Indu Puri spoke of how sports help build confidence; and how it is important to sensitize parents to enable their girl child to go to distant places and play tournaments. She spoke of how sports is empowering and can be seen as a long term engagement because sportspeople, even those who have played only district level, can find employment trough sports quota in government and semi-government offices and organisations.
 Sujit Panigrahi was the moderator of the session.
And here I am, posing at the venue :)

SPECIAL NOTE:Thank you Blogmint (, India’s first and only paid bloggers network and the online media partner for FICCI’s TURF 2013, for having me there for the LIVE Blogging experience at TURF 2013! I had much fun. 


  1. Good post! Very inspiring people they are and the differences they make are heart warming :)

    1. thank you Mikkie ba :) they indeed are doing great stuff.

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