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Sania Mirza: Women Still Have it Tough to Pursue Sport as a Career in India

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Though Sania Mirza admits things are better in India now than it was when she started her tennis career 20-odd years back, the three-time Grand Slam winner insists cultural shackles weigh down a girl and kill her sporting career much before it reaches its full potential. 
Indian tennis star Sania Mirza

Sania Mirza reveals that the secret to her success against odds was the innate competitiveness with which she approached both her matches as well as her career and life (Pic: Pioneer).

Sania Mirza says she is glad to note that a lot of sports stars outside cricket are women. However, the Indian tennis star feels it will take a few more generations before women start seeing sports as a natural career choice in the country.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the All India Tennis Association and the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Mirza spoke on a variety of factors and issues affecting women athletes including the role played by parents and the attitude of coaches.

“I take huge pride in the fact that outside cricket, the biggest sports stars are women athletes. If you see magazines, billboards, you find women sports stars. That is a huge step, I know how difficult it is to pursue a sport being a woman,” said Mirza.

“This is a signal that things have changed but we have miles to go before we reach the point where when a girl picks up boxing gloves, or a badminton racquet or says ‘I want to be a wrestler’, it’s not out of ordinary, it should become natural progression,” she added.

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Mirza tried to shed light on a unique problem in Indian tennis. Girls tend to leave the sport in the late teens. The multiple Grand Slam winner spoke about the cultural issues that cut short promising careers on court. 

“Sport on this side of the world does not come naturally to parents. They want their daughters to be doctors, lawyers, teachers but not an athlete. Things have changed in the last 20-25 years since I started playing tennis but still there is a long way to go,” she said.

India has many women champions who have made it big on the world stage. PV Sindhu, MC Mary Kom, wrestler Vinesh Phogat, and former world champion weightlifter Mirabai Chanu have made constant headlines. But the fact also remains that these athletes face a lot of challenges despite their credentials, and for an upcoming athlete, it is that much tougher.

“Certain norms are outlined for girls. Even after I had achieved everything, I was being asked when I am going to have a child as if until I have a child, my life will not be complete. There are deeper cultural issues embedded in us and it will take a few more generations to get rid of those issues,” she said, adding that strong support from her parents was key to her success.

“What we were doing was against the norm. I started playing at age of six and at that time a girl picking up the racquet and dreaming of playing Wimbledon was laughed at. Log kya kahenge (what will people say) has killed more dreams than anything else. I was lucky to be born to parents, who did not care about it,” she added.

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While advising coaches, Mirza said they have to be more sensible when they train girls. “Coaching girls is trickier. At the age of 13-14 they are still discovering who they are. There are changes happening in the body. There are hormonal changes which happen throughout their lives.

“Secret to success is competitiveness. I was always aggressive, did not mind losing a few matches or making mistakes at the junior level. The goals were bigger,” she said.

“The belief that you can be the best is a must. When I competed against Serena Williams, it gave me a confidence boost. When I won the first round at the Australian Open, I was happy but not surprised. I felt that I belonged there,” she asserted.

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