In my 20- plus years as a professional athlete and administrator, I have seen Indian sport evolve in lots of elements. We have actually made giant strides in producing world beaters, taking assistance from a few of the finest professionals and utilizing cutting-edge technology. However, one of the areas in which we have actually made little progress is our frame of mind. Homophobia is deeply entrenched in Indian sport, be it in the form of slurs chanted during matches or within the general sporting environment, which isn’t friendly towards LGBTQ individuals.
In this context, sprint star Dutee Chand’s statement last Sunday that she is in a same-sex relationship is a watershed moment in Indian sport. When I read her interview, my very first reaction was that of being shocked since no one in India had revealed this previously. But soon, that sensation became a sense of immense pride.
My ideas instantly went to the guts it would have considered her to come out in a largely conservative society like ours. We are talking about a young athlete from a remote town in Odisha– not someone who, one supposes, might have a support group to deal with the fallout.
This isn’t to suggest that Indians residing in huge cities are all open-minded. I matured playing in Mumbai, where there is a culture of belittling anybody who isn’t ‘macho’ enough. Words like pansy are delicately thrown around … I do not want to mention particular examples but I can inform you that if a gamer is delicate or apparently unmanly, homophobic slurs are frequently directed at him by his teammates and others. Which is to state, being gay is not fine. So envision a player whose sexual preference is really that, how will such a player ever have the guts to come out? Homosexuality is mistakenly corresponded as a weak point while playing sport is anything however.
One likewise requires to understand that being gay has absolutely nothing to do with machismo– for instance, there are rugby players, considered to be among the toughest professional athletes, who have actually come out of the closet. I can’t promote women and the sort of obstacles they deal with, but I believe this type of harmful atmosphere exists for them, too. The sporting community, after all, belongs of the society and, in spite of the Supreme Court ruling decriminalising homosexuality, there is a stigma connected to it.
It is regrettable that very few from the sporting fraternity have actually publicly backed Dutee. And I hope that will change in the days to come.
So for Dutee to have discussed this is exceptional and must be supported completely. Dutee is using her status to offer a lot of like her who reside in deeply conservative societies and communities the peace of mind that there is nothing ‘incorrect’ with them. That they are not devoting a criminal activity. And she did it by putting herself at terrific risk.
American tennis legend Billie Jean King, one of the first female athletes to come out as gay in the early 1980 s, has often mentioned the problems she had to face back then considering that she had no allies and because of the embarassment related to it. One would have imagined that after a lot of decades, it would have become reasonably easier for professional athletes to come out. Sadly, it still isn’t the case. Sport is typically talked about as being a great leveller– your ethnicity, socioeconomic status and the geographical background becomes secondary when you are on the field. Similarly, we ought to make every effort to guarantee that a person’s sexual preference does not matter. We can’t be motivating or showing homophobic mindsets.
I have constantly preserved that for any sport to become more accessible and inclusive, it needs an icon. Dutee is a trendsetter and an icon that Indian sport desperately needed. I hope her declaration will provide guts to other queer professional athletes, who fear openly recognizing as such. But that will just happen if they see that Dutee doesn’t pay too big a rate– which will depend on us. We require to guarantee she gets the support she should have. She will certainly deal with resistance from some quarters but the ethical assistance extended to her should surpass that.
The clarity and courage with which Dutee spoke has the possible to alter our attitude and bring in more approval. One of the things she said has actually stuck with me– “everybody must have the liberty to enjoy.” Why is that so difficult for people to comprehend?
( The writer is former captain of the Indian hockey group and CEO of Olympic Gold Mission)