With their spectacular performance in the international sporting arena, shuttlers P. V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, and cricketers Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur have become the pride of Indian womanhood. Any form of appreciation will be less for these extremely talented women whose achievements best exemplify the maturing of the Indian sports.
At the same time, I’m disheartened by the absence of Malayalee women among those who are currently making our country proud on international stage. It is a fact that apart from athletics, we have not witnessed any remarkable achievements from Malayalee women in other sporting disciplines.
It is a matter of immense pride that Malayalee female athletes have always been the country’s flag-bearers. It was the likes of legendary P. T. Usha and Shiny Wilson who put Kerala on the international sporting map. Among the current crop of youngsters, there are many as talented and capable as their predecessors to achieve international success.
But if we take a look at other disciplines, there is nothing much to boast of. Of course, there are a few Malayalee women who have made their mark in basketball, volleyball, shooting and badminton, but the list is too short. What exactly is the reason? Why would our girls confine themselves to athletics?
There are many young girls in Kerala who have the potential to prosper at the international level. It is definitely our villages, not urban areas, that are blessed with an incredible abundance of raw talents. The home-grown athletes from rural communities who have brought laurels to the country testify to this fact. But they don’t take up any other sporting discipline, or rather, they are not encouraged to opt for a career in other elite sports.
I believe the main reason for this appalling trend is the lack of awareness of the importance of other major sporting disciplines. The absence of specialized trainers is another reason. Parental concerns over their safety is also an issue.
I would like to put forward the following suggestions with an ambition to see Malayalee women leading the way in the international sporting arena in different disciplines other than athletics.
1. Start scouting for natural talents in rural regions and train them in modern competitive sports and games. The project could be implemented through local sports bodies or the district sports councils.
2. Associations should come forward to conduct tournaments regularly to popularize these events, especially among rural folks.
3. There are several sports hostels run by the Kerala State Sports Council to nurture talents in different games. Selection trials need to be decentralized. More opportunities should be given to girls from rural areas.
4. Establish modern training facilities in villages.
5. Physical education teachers should focus on encouraging talented girls to take up other modern games other than athletics.
(The author, a former World Championship bronze medalist, is a central government-appointed national observer for athletics)