Vinesh Phogat poses for pictures during the medal ceremony of WFS50kg wrestling Nordic at the Commonwealth Games 2018.(PTI)
Vinesh Phogat poses for pictures during the medal ceremony of WFS50kg wrestling Nordic at the Commonwealth Games 2018.(PTI)

Times changing for Indian women, Vinesh Phogat tells the world

Vinesh Phogat is the first individual Indian athlete to be nominated for a major category in the Laureus awards.
By Soumitra Bose | Hindustan Times, Monaco
UPDATED ON FEB 18, 2019 07:17 PM IST

Vinesh Phogat’s sporting achievements took a backseat as a clutch of European journalists, who had ‘read’ about life of a woman wrestler, were curious to know if people in India still frowned upon young girls wearing shorts and competing in sport alongside men.

Vinesh and her wrestler husband Somvir Rathee largely went unnoticed here during the morning session of interviews, but like Spanish national daily ABC’s young reporter Carlos Tristan, there were a few who wanted to know ‘more’ about Indian women after Yuwa, the Jharkhand-based NGO that uses football as a tool to empower girls, won the Laureus Sport for Good award on Sunday.

Vinesh is the first individual Indian athlete to be nominated for a major category in the Laureus awards. The 24-year-old from Bhiwani, Haryana, who won the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games golds (50 kg freestyle) after a debilitating knee injury in the 2016 Rio Games, will be up against Tiger Woods, Lindsey Vonn (skiing), figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan) and snowboarders Mark McMorris (Canada) and Bibian Mentel-Spee (Dutch Paralympic champion) for the World Comeback of the Year award.

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“I had no clue about Laureus awards. After people started telling me about this nomination, I got a bit excited. I have no knowledge about the others in fray but I have seen Tiger Woods in Indian media,” said a candid Vinesh hours before Monday’s late evening ceremony.

‘LOVE FEDERER’

Vinesh though is a tennis fan.

“Is Roger Federer coming here? I am just inspired by Serena Williams and want to click a selfie with her. This Japanese girl Naomi Osaka is also quite good,” Vinesh showed off her tennis knowledge.

“It really doesn’t matter to me if I win or lose. That I will be representing India at a world stage is more than enough and I am looking forward to see so many legends from other Olympic disciplines,” she said.

Vinesh will be off to Bulgaria for a world ranking event in Ruse from February 28 to March 3. The more points she acquires from these tournaments the path to Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will get clearer. “I have started training with the new Hungarian coach Woller Akos and this tournament will help me identify the areas to improve,” she said.

FACE OF INDIA

For European journalists like Tristan, women’s sport in India is still in the dark ages of early marriage and forced labour. Much to Tristan’s amazement, that sordid life is fast changing.

READ: Yuwa flies Indian flag at Laureus Awards

“Yes, we were married off early and forced to serve the men but today when we wear track suits and step out in sneakers, men in our villages are not shocked.

“Sport is becoming a way of life in many Indian villages and even the men are accepting that women have the mind and body to challenge the extremes in any sport,” said Vinesh.

If it’s a Phogat how can Dangal be far behind?

Do you tell Mahavir Phogat (her uncle and father of wrestlers Geeta and Babita) how training methods have changed?

“Oh my god, are you crazy? It is impossible to tell him all this. My sisters learnt the tricks of the trade from him and no matter what success we achieve in life, he (Mahavir) will always be part of the story,” signed off Vinesh.

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