Turns Out, Even An Olympic Gold Cannot Save You From Relationship Status Questions

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Neeraj Chopra girlfriend: Ever since the ‘boy with the golden arm’ brought the country glory with its first-ever Olympic gold in track and field athletics, Neeraj Chopra has emerged as the reigning icon in javelin throw. His victory has come with more than just sporting glory as the 23-year-old has managed to enamour an entire youth population with not just skill, but style too.

And so naturally, how could Indian television media give this crucial angle a miss when interviewing him about his history-making in Tokyo?

Pegging it as an “#Exclusive BIG REVELATION,” a news channel delivered some “Good news for girls!” Tuesday morning after their anchor appeared to get a confirmation on whether Chopra, apparently the reigning heartthrob of the moment, has a girlfriend or not.

“My sole focus right now is only on my game,” a sheepish Chopra told Navika Kumar of Times Now, answering in the negative about his relationship status after she prodded him multiple times about it. She gave the topic a rest, but not before contending he is the “most eligible bachelor of the country.”

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The one pleasantly surprising truth to come out of this interview was how the anchor levelled the ground by asking Chopra about his relationship status – a question reserved largely in Indian media for sportswomen. Seldom are men at the receiving end of a gendered conversation, especially when they have returned after having clinched a formidable world title.

But trust our media to turn the tables.

Twitter is, expectedly, having a field day over the entire episode:

Neeraj Chopra Girlfriend Questions: When Interviews Turn Into Uncomfortable Cliches

Humour aside, should mediapersons feel they have the liberty and entitlement to ask deeply private questions under a jesty garb to a sporting athlete on television? Is an athlete showing skill only to be made conscious of physical appearances that he is being told have left the world in awe? If we’re trying to standardise interviews without sexism for women, then shouldn’t the same understanding of principled questioning be applied to men?

Every time world champ Sania Mirza won (or lost) a tennis match as a single woman, she was probed in interviews about “settling down.” When she did get married to cricketer Shoaib Malik in 2010, questions about motherhood rained on her. Years later even now, even as she recently made a stunning comeback to the field during Wimbledon, the voices of naysayers reminding her of the ‘domestic duties’ she is neglecting have not died down.

These are clearly not the older ways of the world that senior sporting stars have had to brave.

The younger lot – like badminton Olympian PV Sindhu, cricketer Smriti Mandhana, table tennis’ Manika Batra – too is exposed to gendered narratives, ones that sexualise them for outward appearances, ones that hold beauty standards superior to talent, ones that pit their contemporaries and teammates against them on the basis of looks.

Are young men and women nothing beyond their relationship statuses? Must the older generations limit the youth to this one-track conversation when we’re trying to expand the identities we stand for by exhibiting professional competence? Can the line of questioning in India take on an intelligent tone? For suggestion, here are some questions NOT to ask when a sportsperson wins big.

Views expressed are the author’s own.