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CWG 2018 gold winner Heena Sidhu: There is no space for religion in sport

Heena Sidhu, who recently won gold in the women’s 25m shooting event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, opted out of a competition in Iran around 2014, after the sportswomen were asked to wear a hijab wherever they went.

other sports Updated: Apr 20, 2018 12:42 IST
Nikita Saxena
Nikita Saxena
Hindustan Times
Heena Sidhu,2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games,Ronak Pandit
Heena Sidhu won the gold medal in the women's 25m pistol shooting during the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.(Photo: Patrick Hamilton/AFP)

To a sportsperson, nothing comes before their game — not even faith. And shooter Heena Sidhu, who recently won gold for India at the women’s 25m shooting event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (CWG), in Gold Coast, Australia, makes that abundantly clear.

“There was this hijab controversy, around 2014, when we had to go to Iran for a competition. We were told that one had to wear a hijab anywhere they went, and I didn’t like that. Sport is something that should be out of these. We’re there just to follow the rules of the sport, and sports mein iss sab ka koi kaam nahi hai — religion has no space in sports. While I dropped out of the event, there were other girls who went [to Iran]. I think we should have stood up and boycotted such an event. However, everybody is free to exercise their personal choice. Others were comfortable with it; I wasn’t,” she states.

Sidhu, who started shooting during her graduation days as a hobby, hadn’t thought she would win gold at the Commonwealth Games. However, Sidhu had attained the position of world No. 1 in April 2014 — the first Indian shooter to reach that position. She had won the women’s air pistol gold in the World Cup Final in Munich, Germany, in 2013 and again women’s air pistol gold at the 7th Asian Championship in Kuwait in 2014.

‘I had told [my husband] Ronak that I should invest more time in air pistol as that was always my strong point’ — Heena Sidhu, shooter

At this year’s Commonwealth Games, informally called Gold Coast 2018, she not only won her first CWG gold, but also set a new record in the finals with her score of 38. The thing is that Sidhu hadn’t even thought about this, initially.

“I had told Ronak (husband, coach and former shooter, Ronak Pandit) that I should invest more time in air pistol as that was always my strong point, not sports pistol. I didn’t win any shooting finals even at the domestic level last year, in the sports pistol event. But Ronak told me to give it some time and see if I could make it into the CWG team,” says Sidhu.

Heena Sidhu with her husband, coach and former shooter, Ronak Pandit. (PTI)

Sidhu says that at the CWG, her mind and body remained focused on repeating what she had learnt in her training sessions with Pandit. “I practise every morning. And in addition to the basic technical training, I go through pressure training and simulations of the finals, where Ronak tries to distract me or put pressure on me and I have to perform through that,” she explains. Having her husband as her coach also helps. She explains, “He knows me and the sport, too, so he comes up with ideas that suit me. It’s why I’ve worked with him for so many years.”

‘I strongly feel that as far as possible, athletes should always have a balanced life and another profession for a sense of security’ — Heena Sidhu, shooter

The shooter, who is also a qualified dentist, says that it wasn’t easy managing both studies and the sport together. But she believes that an alternative career is important for a sense of security. “It was very hard. When I got into my medical college is also when I got selected for the Indian team, so throughout my graduation [course] I was shooting at the international level. And there were times when I had to skip my exams. But I strongly feel that as far as possible, athletes should always have a balanced life and another profession for a sense of security. It also takes away a lot of pressure from their game,” she says.

Sidhu visits Delhi often for her competitions and says that while she loves the city’s food and winters, she hates the pollution. “This is something that needs to be looked into as soon as possible,” she says, “because it’s decreasing the life expectancy of people.”

Interact with the author at Twitter/@NikitaSaxena

First Published: Apr 17, 2018 15:36 IST