Olympic shooter Shagun Chowdhary urges people and the government to encourage female athletes from the start of their journey, and not wait until they start winning laurels for the country on the international stage.
In the second day of the 9th edition of TechSparks, YourStory‘s flagship annual tech conference, Olympic trap shooter Shagun Chowdhary detailed the struggles of being an Indian sportswoman, her Olympic journey and the need for acceptance of sports as a career option, for women and men alike.
“A female Indian athlete is very hard to come by,” Shagun said, adding that she is often asked what she does for a living. When she says that she shoots, the usual response goes something like: “oh that’s nice, what else do you do?” To drive home her point, she asked the audience if they knew who won medals for India at the Rio Olympics.
“Two women. PV Sindhu and Sakshi Mallik… Women have to work much harder for recognition,” she pointed out.
But she acknowledged that things are looking up for women in sport in India. Earlier, we only talked about Anju Bobby George, but now we have names like Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, and Hima Das, after whom Addidas named one of its range of shoes. Shagun felt the change is driven by the audience and social media. “More people are now coming out to support sportswomen,” she added.
The Shagun story
Shagun’s father, a shooter himself, was her biggest inspiration and source of motivation. Her mother, on the other hand, saw absolutely no future in a career in sport.
Shagun studied science in school and went on to study economics in college. Her mother always hoped her daughter would pursue a traditional career, that of an engineer or working for a corporate.
Her father, however, had different plans for Shagun. He introduced Shagun to the game, gave her the opportunity to explore it, and believed in her. “He saw what I could be,” Shagun said.
But the society was not as kind. Back in the day, being a woman athlete was tough, since sports was a boys’ club. On the national level, there were only two other women shooters besides Shagun, and they were not taken seriously. “We used to be like puppets who came and shot, for the sake of shooting,” Shagun recalled, adding, “I had to do something really, really big to tell everyone and myself that I am right.”
On September 18, 2011, when she came fourth in the World Championships, she also won the first quota for India at the Olympics in shooting trap. “I called up my mother and said, ‘Sorry I could not become a doctor or engineer, but will an Olympian do?'”
From then to now, the number of women shooters in the national level has increased from a paltry two to an impressive hundred.
Begin at the beginning
Did her competitors from around the world have a similar journey to the Olympics? The University of Stanford is termed, in the sporting world, ‘a nation of 16,000’. And they won 27 medals at the Rio Olympics.
Shagun explained that talent has to be fostered from a very young age, and this would help competitors prep themselves for a fruitful career on the world stage.
In India, too, sportswoman can scale great heights in the sports world with the help of everyone’s support and encouragement. But more than anything else, we need acceptance in India. “We must start accepting sports as a career option,” the Olympian added.
Shagun said that she did not have any role model while growing up since there were hardly any women in the shooting space, but she hoped that the future would be full of inspiration, mentors and role models.
What can the government do?
While the government has started recognising sportswoman, it often steps in a little late in the game.
Things, however, are changing slowly, Shagun noted. “There is funding coming and groups that are picking up athletes at a younger level and are being a part of their journey,” she added.
But what about the expectation on women to hang up their boots for the sake of starting a family? Shagun cited the example of boxer Mary Kom. “As far as the second innings is concerned, women manage to balance life much better than men,” she quipped.
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