As the year comes to an end, one is left wondering how 2016 has been a year like no other.
2016 has had its share of the good and the bad. In case of sports, the story was no different.
From Leicester City’s improbable league title in England to Usain Bolt’s third triple at the Rio Olympics, from Portugal’s unlikely Euro Cup victory to Andy Murray’s rise to the top – the year has truly been remarkable.
For Indians, there have been definitive moments throughout the year that stand out in the world of sports. The Indian cricket team stamping their dominance, the hockey team on its way back to glory, Vijender Singh becoming a champion, were all instances that make us proud. Then, of course there was the debacle in Brazil – a medal tally of two does not really portray the vast amount of talent in the country. It could be said that it was an average year for the sports scene in India.
But there have still been sportspersons who have made us proud. This has largely been the year of the Indian sportswoman.
It is an undeniable fact that the sportswomen of the country have outperformed their male counterparts in 2016. They broke societal barriers, conservative cultures to achieve great heights. Most importantly, they won.
If you take PV Sindhu’s case for example. All expectations in women’s badminton in the Olympics were burdened on Saina Nehwal’s shoulders. Unfortunately, she sustained an injury that cut her dream short.
However, Sindhu carried the hopes of billions as she performed magnificently to storm into the finals. Although she failed in the final step – losing out to Carolina Marin, fighting till the last point – her efforts were unmatched by the male counterparts.
Apart from the silver medal at the Olympics, she also went on to win the China Open Super Series and the Malaysia Masters. She has been outrageously brilliant over the last 12 months and has set a definitive benchmark for sportspersons of the country.
While we are still on the subject of Olympics, it would be a crime not to talk about Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar. In their own ways, they have conveyed the story of women empowerment in India.
Sakshi’s roots lie in the rural areas of Haryana from a deeply conservative and patriarchal society. Women taking up sports is frowned upon by everyone. Yet, the young wrestler overcame all the barriers, fighting all ends. She was rewarded for her determination when she won the bronze medal in Rio.
Dipa, on the other hand, is the ideal embodiment of courage of young Indian women. From the rural pockets of Tripura, she went on to become the first Indian women gymnast to ever participate in the Olympics. However, not all stories have a fairy tale ending as Dipa missed out on a medal by a whisker, finishing fourth by a fraction of points.
Aditi Ashok is another success story for 2016. The 18-year-old golfer from Bengaluru turned professional only this year and has already made her mark in the world. She won back-to-back tournaments, namely, Hero Women’s Indian Open and Qatar Ladies Open and also gained her LPGA tour card for 2017. An Indian woman, making a name for herself in a sport that is not so prevalent in the country is definitely remarkable.
Speaking of underdog achievers, did you know that the U-18 women’s rugby team finished third in an Asian tournament? Yes, rugby, you read that right. This is by far the best performance by any rugby team from India. Talk about female empowerment in the country.
Hockey has long lost its sheen of the olden days. This year, though, the sport regained some of its lost glory through both the men’s and women’s team. The women’s team, in particular, had not achieved such heights in the last few years. The team won its first ever Asian Champions Trophy and qualified for the Olympics after a gap of 36 years.
Sania Mirza has been at the pinnacle of tennis, especially in the doubles discipline, for a while now. This year she won the coveted Australian Open along with two other WTA titles.
In cricket, the women’s team hardly get any recognition when compared to their male counterparts. However, their efforts saw them winning the T20 Asia Cup, an excellent performance all around.
Indian women are beating all the odds and winning. But why would I be talking about sports, comparing in terms of gender? Because, even in this day and age, a vast majority of people believe that women should grow up, get married, serve their husbands, bear children, and look after everyone until they breathe their last.
It’s a tragedy, but it’s true. And what adds to that, sports, as a career option, is in its infancy in this country. Still if it is a boy, parents may encourage any notion of a career in sports. But for a girl child, this encouragement from parents is light years away.
No success story of the Indian woman in sports can be complete without telling the story of Tajamul Islam. This eight-year-old girl made India proud when she won the World Kickboxing Championship in Italy in November.
Her fight was not just against the opponents but also the barriers she faced. She is from a lesser known village in Kashmir called Tarkpora. The sport itself is not very popular in the country and in her village there was no proper infrastructure. Yet she trained in an open field with makeshift equipment and went on to become the world champion.
In years to come, we may look back at 2016 as the spark that started the fire. It is a certainty that the future of Indian women in sports is on the up but it might take a few years to reach the zenith. Until then, here is a toast for the Indian sportswoman achieving it all in the year 2016.