If women can bring the country medals in wrestling, then the demand for a woman coach/president to take them forward in the sport, especially after the accusations of #MeToo that emerged, naming the senior men with sexual harassment, should not be dismissed. I use the word “should” because this would make women feel safe and heard across sectors in India. It would also serve as a lesson for men to treat women with dignity. The fear of losing their jobs and reputation would teach such men lessons in behaviour and attitudes.
But sadly, the reality is that men represent accused men, thereby not breaking cycles of gender entitlement. Women training women in sports and other arenas, if it becomes the norm, will see a surge of more women joining these sports and bringing more medals for India. Also for men who aren’t able to handle their raging misplaced sexism, a decision barring them in their pursuit of power would be a great decision on behalf of the authorities. This decision would also bring a ray of light for many who may not have the courage to report such cases.
As a woman, one feels extreme helplessness watching Sakshi Malik, cry into our phone cameras while giving up her boots on the dias of a press conference, announcing her exit from the sport, with the news of Sanjay Singh, (who happens to be a close associate of the outgoing WFI Chief) now being chosen as the new president.
His panel winning 13 of the 15 posts in the elections, is a result that has brought disappointment for the top three wrestlers of India. Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia who had aggressively pushed for a change of guard at the federation.
The wrestlers had levelled accusations of sexual harassment against Brij Bhushan, targeting women wrestlers, including juniors. They did garner support from various segments of society.
However, the protest lost momentum on May 28, 2022, on the day they intended to march towards the new Parliament building, as Delhi Police intervened and removed all the protesters from Jantar Mantar, citing incidents of rioting.
Women in rage is not common. Yet one knows, that since history it is only angry women who are the catalysts of change. From the protests in Iran to the current situation of India’s sports women, therein lay the hope for many women who would find redemption, for the complaints they did not have the guts to register for.
The gender discrimination in sports is on our faces. We all know that women's sports carry fewer broadcast privileges than male sports events in the media. Marketing companies also do not support women athletes in becoming better-known faces for brand endorsements. The truth is women face multiple challenges in sports in comparison to men. Among them, are meagre payment, lack of female coaches, biases in awards and also the lack of family support.
With Sakshi Malik crying, this is a reminder for us, that we have a long battle ahead of us. We do realise that it is high time now, that women should be given equal opportunity in this arena, but we know this realisation isn’t an easy one to attain.
Mohua Chinappa is an author and runs a podcast called The Mohua Show.