For women athletes around the world and their supporters, this has been a great year in sports. Not only because of the historic achievements – which are plenty – but also because of the courage displayed by them in the face of deep-rooted discrimination.
The discrimination which treats their victories as lesser victories and stressful situations way harder than they need to be.
Take Naomi Osaka, for instance. One of the most influential sporting figures on the planet, the 23-year-old declared that she won’t be attending post-match press conferences at the French Open to safeguard her mental health.
Unfortunately, but not to anyone’s surprise, she was levied with a heavy fine for going against the “rule”. What followed was Osaka’s withdrawal from the tournament and a huge conversation around the mental wellness of athletes, in the light of immense pressure on them every moment of every day.
This couldn’t have been an easy stand to take, she was going against the ‘system’ after all, but Osaka stood by her decision and ultimately got overwhelming support from people.
With this one gesture, she also managed to start a conversation about the self-serving nature of the Grand Slams, who wouldn’t let an athlete take care of her mind as she tries to face her personal struggles.
Moving on, a similar decision was taken by Simone Biles when she announced that she is going to bow out of the Olympics after admitting that she felt like she had the “weight of the world” on her shoulders.
Biles is the Greatest of all Time in her field, and I can’t emphasise enough the importance of her call to take a break to look out for herself (she did come back when she was feeling better and well, she did win a medal).
The gymnast set an amazing example for people that absolutely nothing comes before your mental health, and that absolutely no victory is worth it if it is giving you major bouts of anxiety once the curtains fall.
Both Osaka and Biles have been on the receiving end of sexism and extreme judgment and this was their way of declaring that they are going to prioritise their own voice, over others’ and I think that’s a brilliant lesson for everyone, everywhere.
Speaking of brilliance, we have a brand new talent, Emma Raducanu, taking the tennis world by the storm.
The 18-year-old became the first British woman to win a Grand Slam in 44 years. She is also the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam.
Emma is the daughter of an immigrant and her race and nationality continue to be discussed over and over. However, rising above all the noise, she has made a path and history, and for that, she deserves all the credit in the world.
As we talk about these achievers, it would be remiss to miss out on the ones from our own country.
3 out of 7 medals won by India at the Olympics this year were brought home by women. And while I mention that, let us not forget the iconic feat of the Indian women’s hockey team, which fought against casteism, sexism, and a hundred other social evils and qualified for the first-ever semifinal at the Games.
You need to keep in mind that most of these women were looked down upon by society, even abandoned and ridiculed, for the simple dream of playing the sport they love.
So, let their success be a reminder of their power but also the unnecessary hurdles put in their way, and how we can stop that from happening in the future.
The Games also gave us an outstanding young talent in the form of Avani Lekhara, who became the first woman from the country to win gold at the Paralympics and then added another medal to her tally.
Avani’s victories made her an ‘overnight star’ who worked for years to get where she is today. If that is not a role model, I don’t know who’d be.
These athletes are among thousands of others who are changing the scene as their achievements push an unfairly tilted world back to a balanced position with each passing day.
Here’s us saluting their excellence.