Deepika Kumari: and on it goes

7 September, 2015


“I am worried over Deepika’s problem. Less than a year is left for the Olympics and Deepika has to come up with her best. Her selection for Rio will hinge a lot on her performance in the coming months,” said Jamshedpur-based Dharmendra Tiwary, who was the Indian team mentor at both Denmark and Poland competitions.

While Deepika, Majhi and Biruily have qualified for next year’s Rio Olympics team event, their participation hinges on Indian selectors’ appraisal of their performance in various tournaments in the lead-up to the world’s biggest sports extravaganza.

“Unlike Champia, who has qualified for Olympics in his individual capacity and will, therefore, compete in Rio, the women will need to maintain their performance in upcoming national and international competitions for getting selected in the Indian squad,” explained V.V.S.N. Rao, former technical director of Tata archery cradle.

“Hence, the upcoming events are very crucial for the women archers,” he said.

Tiwary explained that Deepika was a top-bracket archer who was a seasoned performer with a hunger to do well. “When she was new to archery, Deepika used to shoot well with a free mind. But that is not the situation now. She may be feeling bogged down by the pressure to perform. This happens when one becomes seasoned. Remember, Deepika is in archery for more than a decade now,” he explained.

I’ve written before about the endemic sexism in the Indian media about Deepika Kumari​ and unfortunately, it shows no sign of going away. But when her own coaches help to stick the knife in, it seems particularly awful.

I’m struggling to think of any other country or NGB that would undermine its own elite Olympic athletes by detailing their perceived faults in public, to the press. Unfortunately, it only seems to happen to female athletes, and Kumari in particular, despite her relatively strong season so far and anchoring a team that qualified for Rio.

Even worse is the incorrect assertion that Mangal Singh Champia qualified himself personally for Rio, when he only qualified a individual place for Indian men. I suppose the Indian archery association might have some internal code about what would happen in Copenhagen qualification, but if what he is saying is true, i.e. Champia gained a place that was somehow ‘his’ by right but the women had to earn their places in a 2016 selection shoot (like most  other nations) then surely that would be deeply unethical, not to mention possibly illegal?

Even if he is just wrong, the choice of words is telling. It’s not so surprising in a country recently cited as the worst G20 country in which to be a woman, but a lot of attitudes in the world of Indian sport seem stuck firmly in the nineteenth century – and the country’s media still apparently do nothing to help.

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