For her, it isn’t worth the trouble she gets into over and over again. It would be easy to judge her decision as ‘unpatriotic’. After all, it is always only a handful of foam-in-the-mouths who lash out against her — either about her sartorial inaptitude as a ‘good Muslim’ or about her out-of-tennis court actions such as shooting for an ad film in an ‘Islamic public space’. But it is also a fact that even the handful of people baiting Mirza are not effectively countered by liberal voices and the result is that we have come to almost automatically expect some fracas regarding Mirza rather than focusing on her tennis.
Being a sportsperson at that level means being able to stand criticism and yet focus on the day job: the game. But it is one occupational hazard to shrug off criticism that has bearing to her identity as a tennis player (comments about her weight, for instance, or her buckling under pressure) or even harmless jibes that come with the package of being a public figure (her varying accent, for instance) and quite another where religious fundamentalists target her for being ‘un-Islamic’. Like entertainers, sportspersons also depend on their livelihood by playing before as many audiences as possible.
How capable you are as a sportsperson will determine how many high-level platforms you get to strut your stuff. So Mirza’s decision not to play in India is not something she will look forward to. But if she senses that the cons of playing in India outweigh the pros, she has all the right to ‘sacrifice’ participating in Indian tournaments.
It will be our loss that Mirza has pulled out of the WTA Bangalore Open next month. Having one of the top seeds in
international tennis in our country is something to be proud of. It would be up to us — tennis lovers or liberals — to make the right noises against those who have made Mirza skip playing the game she’s so good at in her own backyard.