Breaking past the societal stereotypes and following passion has always been difficult, especially for female athletes in India. It was not until 1952 that female athletes from our country received any form of international recognition. Nilima Ghose, along with Mary D’Souza, became the first Indian woman to qualify and compete in the 1952 summer Olympics held in Helsinki.
“Sport is the most effective tool of empowerment,” quoted Suheil Tandon, founder of Pro Sports Development (PSD). Female representation in the sports industry is a way to break down stereotypes and give them the voice they deserve.
Despite the challenges, many female athletes have made the country proud with their exceptional talent. Let us take a look at India’s 10 most influential sportswomen:
1. Sania Mirza: Sania is one of the country’s biggest sports icons. She is the first and the only female tennis player from India with six major titles. Throughout her entire career, from 2003 to 2013, she was ranked by the Women’s Tennis Association as India’s No. 1 player.
2. Mithali Raj: The captain of the Indian Cricket team, Raj is the highest run-scorer in women’s international cricket and is the only woman to surpass 6000 run benchmarks in ODI. Adding to her achievements, she is the first player to score seven consecutive 50s in ODIs and holds the record for most half-centuries in WODIs.
3. Mary Kom: She is a five-time World Amateur Boxing champion and is the only female boxer to win a medal in each one of the first seven World Championships, and the only boxer to win World Championship Medals. Apart from her illustrious career as an amateur boxer, Kom was nominated as a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament.
4. P V Sindhu: After making her debut in 2009, Sindhu rose to No. 2 in 2017. She is the first woman from India to win a silver medal at the Summer Olympics at the age of 21. She also became the first Indian Badminton World Champion. She has received many high-ranking honors and awards, including Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, Arjuna Award, Padma Shri, and Padma Bhushan.
5. Sakshi Malik: With the 2016 Summer Olympics, this woman became India’s first female wrestler to bag a medal at the Olympics. Malik’s first success as a professional wrestler in the international arena came in 2010 at the Junior World Championship and then at the 2014 Dave Schultz International Tournament.
6. Geeta Phogat: Phogat gained attention after becoming the first Indian wrestler to win a gold medal at the commonwealth games 2010. She is also the first female wrestler from our country to have qualified for the Summer Olympic Games in 2012.
7. Deepika Kumari: Deepika Kumari is an Indian athlete who competes in the event of archery and is currently ranked world number 9. Despite being a former World number 1 in archery, she never received the recognition she deserved. She was conferred the Arjuna Award, FICCI Sportsperson of the Year, and Padma Shri for her magnificent game.
8. Dipa Karmakar: Karmakar is an Indian artistic gymnast. She gained national recognition after becoming the first Indian female gymnast to win a Bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Despite all the physical and financial adversities, she became a gymnast and made the country proud.
9. Tania Sachdeva: Tania Sachdeva is a prominent name in women’s chess. She owns the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster. She has played for the Indian national team in the Women’s Chess Olympiads since 2008, Women’s World Team Chess Championship in 2009 and 2011, the Women’s Asian Team Chess Championship since 2003, and the 2009 Asian Indoor Games.
10. Rani Rampal: Rampal is an important part of the Indian Hockey team. Her rise-to-the-fame match was Champion’s Challenge Tournament where she was adjudged ‘the top goal scorer” and the “young player of the tournament. At the age of 15, she became the youngest player to be a part of the national team in the 2010 World Cup.