It’s been a long road for the women sportswriters

That women don’t make good philosophers or great artists, or indeed sportswriters is one of those myths men love to give legs to.

The pioneers — in any field — have a duty to smoothen the path for those who follow. If today the prize money for women in the Grand Slam tournaments is the same as for men, much of the credit should go to Billie Jean King.   -  AFP

In my early years, I imagined sportswriting was a bit like the fields of philosophy or art. Hypatia of Alexandria apart, there were no great women philosophers; in art despite Frieda Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe, there was no one who could be spoken of in the same breath as Matisse or Picasso. This was because in India there was only one woman sports journalist then.

Today’s sportswriters-who-just-happen-to-be-women are some of the best in the country. It has been a long road, lined with terrible toilets, unwelcoming male colleagues and an over-amused if not downright sexist bunch of sportsmen.

Still, there is probably a higher percentage of women sportswriters in India than in most other countries. Television has its share of sports specialists too. Even as recently as on the 2011 tour of England, Sharda Ugra, India’s best-known, recalled how she was the only woman in the Press Box at a Test match.

Prajwal Hegde, tennis writer (and recently, novelist) was always conscious that she had a personal responsibility for “the next woman coming through the door” into sports journalism. Three established, successful sportswriters — Manuja Veerappa was the third — were sharing their experiences with an audience of potential journalists at a university.

That they were able to look back and laugh, to see humour where there once was bias, was as much a tribute to their temperament as testimony to how far they had come. They were not complaining, merely swapping stories around a camp fire.

“If you want to be in sports journalism,” an American once said, “Check your dignity at the door.” The women in India’s Press Boxes in the early days either hoped to “remain invisible”, like Ugra, or carried backpacks and tried to fit in like Veerappa.

Not all Press Boxes in India have toilets for ladies. Veerappa had a delightful story of Mahendra Singh Dhoni standing guard outside the toilet in the dressing room so she could use it in some peace.

The pioneers — in any field — have a duty to smoothen the path for those who follow. If today the prize money for women in the Grand Slam tournaments is the same as for men, much of the credit should go to Billie Jean King. Yet, King herself was once quoted as saying, “I know that when I die, nobody at my funeral will be talking about me. They’ll all just be standing around telling each other where they were the night I beat Bobby Riggs.”

That women don’t make good philosophers or great artists, or indeed sportswriters is one of those myths men love to give legs to. This despite the fact that women have written three of the finest books on sport — On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates, On Bullfighting by A. L. Kennedy, and Sea Biscuit by Laura Hillendrand. How we Taught the Men We Could Write on Sports while Having Enormous Fun Doing It – or a version of that title is a book waiting to be written by one of our own.