What does being a female sports player, at any level, in India mean?
Believe me when I say - there is NOTHING glamorous about playing at the All-India-Level for the Girls University Basketball team! Apart from being a sort of a short lived celebrity back in college among peers, being acknowledged on stage by the principal on annual day and bettering your game playing next to some of the most amazing female players in the country; the experience of actually playing for the university team is anything but worth remembering. With no funds, resources and sponsors, most of us make it to the tournament in improper shoes with no ankle support, last minute sports-quota-tatkal-train-tickets with no confirmed seats, in terribly designed Jerseys with substandard Jersey material and barely 10 days of practice of playing together as a team. This is the case with most Indian universities barring the autonomous institutes.
What Indian sports meets really lack is hygiene and infrastructure. Sure you get to meet the best players of 91 teams from all over India at one place, but you also need to share a room with three other teams and sleep on hard wood or steel classroom tables and benches or the floor. The worse is not fighting for place to sleep on but the queue to the bathrooms. With the bathrooms all booked in early mornings and evenings the best option is to take a bath at odd hours like 2 AM. The toilets are in a worse condition and not equipped with proper dustbins to dispose waste. The whole restroom experience is worse than that of a general class compartment. If you are used to home made food and not hostel food then you will dread the two boiled eggs, milk, a banana and porridge breakfast they provide, which although an ideal sport diet is bland and tasteless.
There is corruption in every department in India, so by default in sports. With scandals at the highest level and in international sporting events like the common wealth games there is little to say about the state of sports in India. The funds don't reach where they are suppose to be invested, or there are not enough funds allocated for 'a girl's sports tournament' to start with. But there are other forms of corruption too. The most popular of all is what I call - 'knowing someone that knows someone'. Our first year university team had a girl who's dad was the coach's friend. She certainly was not as competent as the other girls who were far better than her. But they weren't selected because the 12th player doesn't matter as long as the coach's friend's daughter gets her national level certificate to get her sports quota for a government job. With that kind of attitude the coaches seem least invested in us and we barely get the motivation we need. No one seems to care whether we win or lose, or even try.
Its not like female players do not get the encouragement they need. I've always had plenty of encouragement from my PT sirs in school. In fact they even made us play matches against the boys, treating us equal. The basic barrier most girls need to get past is family encouragement. Then again there are examples of girls like, Surekha I met at the All India university matches in Amaravati University '08. She was a 19 year old girl who played for the Rajasthan university team and was on phone with her husband and daughter every night giving them updates on the matches. If conservative states like Rajasthan can give their married women the choice pursue their passion, why can't we expect more from others?
Even though boys tournaments have little bigger budgets and better equipment, the story is the same. It seems like the capitalistic approach towards sports is what gives a sport the due attention it deserves. With IPL and more recently IBL spending in crores on players-bidding and having league matches with media coverage, this is what is earning the players the kind of luxury only affluent sports like golf could once earn. Although to play golf one needs to be born into an affluent family to start with. So unless you want to end up as a sports coach after retirement; capitalism is the only way of achieving true upward social mobility through sports.
Hopefully one day all sports in India will receive the notice they deserve and sports players the respect.