Three out of the four sportspersons awarded the 2016 Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna were females. The results of Rio Olympics would have been a gross disappointment for India had P.V. Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, and Dipa Karmakar not participated.
More numbers of girls are now taking up sports a career and dishing out superlative performances on the world stage,yet the debate on gender divide in sports is still searing hot.
Male dominated sports federations
A majority of Indian sports federations are male-dominated bodies, and so are sports coaches.As a result, many female players are emerging only through real hard work and luck, and there is lesser enthusiasm for promoting female sports. A case in point is how gymnast Dipa Karmakar was not allowed by the associated sports federation to take her personal physiotherapist to the Olympic Games, highlighting the bias in Indian sports’ bureaucracy.
However, when it comes to rebalancing this skewed gender representation in sports bodies, a start has been made. When Nita Ambani was elected as the individual member of International Olympic Committee, she became the first Indian woman to join the prestigious body, which governs Olympic sports in the world.
Lower budget for female-oriented sports
Recently, India’s best known female squash player Dipika Pallikal refused to play in the squash nationals, protesting against the unequal rewards on offer for male and female players. While remuneration for male winners was fixed at Rs. 1,20,000, the female winner would pocket only Rs. 50,000. The prize difference in terms of financial rewards is high even in cricket in India, which is run by BCCI, the richest sports body in the country and the richest cricket administration body globally.
There are several arguments in favor of this pay parity in India, which holds true for some. For instance, longer match durations for men in certain sports draws its rationale from the difference in physical stamina of men and women. From the commercial angle, longer matches mean longer entertainment, translating into more revenue for the game, the organizers, and eventually the winners (in this case, male).
But this is not the same in all sports as well asatthe international level. In tennis, the most lucrative sport for female athletes, the prize money is equal for men and women at all four grand-slam events—the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.
Are certain sports “male only”?
Certain sports like Kabaddi and wrestling are still seen as male-dominated ones even as female players like Geeta Phogat, Babita, and Sakshi Malikhave emerged successful in recent times. Lack of proper talent scouting for promising female players and dearth of sponsors for emerging female players make it difficult for even the talented women to climb the sports hierarchy. A case in point is the Dronacharya Awards—offered to quality coaches in India—have been awarded to less than 5% women since its inception.Certain other sports like women’s wrestling and women’s hockey are catching up in popularity, sometimes only when Bollywood talks about them.
Looks or talent?
Female players are oftensought after for their “glam quotient” than sports talent per se, and consequently becomemore popular than male players in their respective field. This is because brands look at consumers on the whole as “male viewership”. This is true for certain types of sports like Badminton, which was a low profile sport in India until recently. As this undue focus on the glam quotient of the player is not bound to send the right message to the society, this is a question women themselves need to be asked.
Both men and women can bring more laurels to India with a little encouragement and better gender parity. While the demand for change may be desired nor effective if given a shrill voice, the underlying change at the grassroots does need to occur by seeding broad and progressive thoughts in public discourse on the subject.