All posts by Jaanki Padania

Why is it still so tough for women to succeed in sport?

Will women ever be equally respected as men in the sports world? Will they ever be paid equally?

Years ago, women were forbidden from playing, watching and supporting any kind of sport. They were expected to get married and look after their families.

Women were always classified as “weaker” than men, and therefore sports was considered too strenuous an activity for them.

Men developed most sports for themselves and this is why sport has always been extremely male dominated.

Unladylike sports

In the 1920s we saw the beginning of high level competitive sports and skilled athletes began emerging.

However, during those years it wasn’t considered fitting for women to play any contact sports or those which involved any type of jumping. Women were encouraged to play more ‘ladylike’ sports such as field hockey, swimming, golf and tennis.

As the years went by, they were allowed to participate in more sports, but it was never as competitive as the men’s game.

Women’s sport failed to gain as much popularity as men’s.

In some countries women, myths persisted such as the one about playing sports is a potential impairment to female fertility.

There are also still a lot of practical barriers stopping women participating in sport,  including poverty and scarcity of economic means.

For women this means lack of time, a lack of appropriate, safe and accessible infrastructure and adequate clothing.

Today, we live in a world where women are taught to stand up for themselves, and over the years every industry has become more accepting regardless of gender.

But women still face a lot of criticism on a daily basis, whether it’s at home or at work. For years, the sports industry has been reserved for men with the justification of “Well, women aren’t into sports that much.”

Paid less

The challenge that female athletes still face today is that they are often being paid half or less of the sums paid to their male counterparts. There are gross discrepancies between the incomes of male and female athletes.

8 out of 10 of the highest paid female athletes are tennis players. There has always been an ongoing battle for equal pay, as in most walks in life there has been a long divide between the earnings of male and female.

But when you have successful athletes and worldwide role models with amazing talent like Serena Williams who fought for equal pay and is extremely passionate about equality on and off the court, you can’t stay quiet for long.

This year marks a decade since women won the right to equal prize money at the oldest and most famous tennis tournament in the world, Wimbledon. However, many associations have been trying for years to raise the pay for women athletes, but they haven’t succeeded as much as they would like to.

The England women’s cricket team

Many fans can proudly identify every male athlete, their families, family history, what position they play in and how successful they are. But what about the female counterparts?

Not only do people not recognise them, a lot of sports fans are unaware when women’s games even take place. However, as the years go by, the growth of sport has benefitted for women too.

A lot more media coverage for women’s football and different sports is available, however it is still not as much as the men’s side.

They also use more marketing to promote women’s games globally. An amazing support system you see in the industry is women supporting women, you have top female sports journalists such as Seema Jaswal who promote women as much as they can, because being a female, they all face the same challenges.

With more women entering the industry in different fields, it looks like it can only get better for them in the coming years with the right encouragement and support.

But instead of dealing with these persistent issues, society tries to publicly shame these aspiring athletes.

Female athletes are still objectified on the field as much as they are on the streets.

Whether you are a coach, a commentator or in the audience, women are looked as commodities showcasing themselves for men’s pleasure, not as athletes of potential and talent.

Even though women are breaking records and winning trophies for their countries they still can’t seem to live up to the men’s level in the male dominated sport.

She shoots, she scores

Women are a growing fan base and the sports industry is responding to it. The sports media has stated to adapt to more women in the industry. We are seeing more media coverage of women’s sport than ever before.

Women are finally starting to have their own say, the difference before was the criticism would force women to give up their passion.

But today even with others questioning females in the sports industry, they still continue to pursue a career in what makes them happy.

Encouraging women to play sport has not only helped women have fewer health problems and land better jobs, it is also good for countries to promote stronger women, stronger communities and stronger economies.

Overall, it is impressive what’s being done to support women in sport now, different campaigns and associations are marketing new trending hash tags and products to help women and supporting impressive programs designed to support getting girls and women into sport globally.

Camel racing in the UAE

The gleaming towers of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates present a very modern face to the world, but the UAE’s traditional culture remains strong.

One area in which this manifests itself is sport – and, in particular, the excitement and big-money stakes associated with camel racing.

These ships of the desert are an integral part of UAE life and are considered a symbol of the UAE’S pride and prosperity.

Camels racing connects every Emirati with their cultural heritage and remains tremendously popular.

Back in 1971, when the UAE gained its independence from Britain, camels were an integral part of the lives of Bedouins who lived in the desert.

They were described as a gift of god, and made it possible to live in the desert heat by providing transport, clothing, milk and meat.

As the years passed, and the UAE was transformed by its oil wealth, camel riding became a popular tourist attraction.

Camel racing takes place at 15 tracks around the country, and the season for it runs in the cooler months from November to April.

The animals are usually trained to start racing at the age of three, and their careers usually last only for two or three seasons.

Economic impact

It takes up to three months to train a camel for an important race, and professional trainers are employed to get them ready.

During the season, the camels are required to exercise and eat a specific diet, which usually contains oats, bran, dates and cow’s milk.

A two-day event is held annually in Abu Dhabi, bringing together camel racing fans from around the globe.

In the past, winners were presented with life essentials such as food and livestock, but these days they are gifted cars, cash and trophies.

Race distances vary from 4km to 10km, and each event can feature anything between 15 and 70 camels.

As the sport grows in international acclaim, it continues to grow as a national sport in the UAE – 12 of the 15 tracks were built in the 1990s.

Moving with the times

There are now over 14,000 active Arabian camels in the UAE, and the best racers are treated like royalty, with stables employing thousands of staff, so the sport also has a great impact on the economy.

And although camel racing is in part a celebration of Emirati traditions, it has also moved with the times.

The United Arab Emirates was the first to stop the use of children under the age of 15 as jockeys when Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced a ban on in 2002.

Child jockeys remain a controversial issue in the sport across the region, but other countries including Qatar have since followed the UAE’s example.

The UAE now issues penalties including jail sentences and bans from the sport for those found using children as jockeys.

The stakes are increasingly high, however, with owners winning up to $2m. One camel was recently sold for 35m dirhams, which is over $9.5m.

The sport may have been around for years, but the money involved and technology used now is certainly changing the game.

ISL

Football seeking a bigger share of India’s sporting limelight

India is known for being cricket mad, but with a population of 1.3 billion, and a growing affluent middle class, it has the potential to be one of football’s biggest markets.

That is why the teams that comprise the Indian Super League (ISL) are so important to the future of the world’s most popular sport in its second-most populous country.

What is the ISL?

Founded in October 2013, the ISL was originally known as the Hero Indian Super League as the Hero Motocorp company signed a three-year title sponsorship agreement. Originally featuring eight teams, it now has 10 professional franchises in nine different states, and their season runs for five months, from November to March.

Each squad in the ISL includes one foreign ‘marquee’ star, seven other overseas players, 14 domestic and four local players. Teams play each other home and away, with the top four then playing off across two legs for a spot in the final.

As the ISL is seeking to grow the profile of football in India, there is currently no promotion or relegation. But as in North American sports, it will allow expansion teams to join the league as and when the conditions are right.

Can it ever compete with cricket?

Founded in 2007, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is the world’s richest and pre-eminent Twenty20 competition, and its success offers a template for other sports in India to follow.

With the Kabaddi Pro League already extremely successful, many in India feel there is room for more sports to grab their share of their limelight – and the massive revenues that can be amassed from broadcast rights, ticketing and merchandising.

Much as Indians love their cricket, there is a belief that it has (particularly in the T20 format) eclipsed other sports such as hockey, football,tennis and many others to an unhealthy degree.

India has plenty of talented young footballers, but currently lacks the infrastructure for them to develop their careers. This its what the ISL is seeking to address.

And can it compete with the English Premier League?

The ISL currently attracts average crowds of around 22,000 per game, but the league is still new, and many football fans in India already have allegiances to clubs in the English Premier League.

The EPL has been marketed very successfully around the globe, but particularly in countries like India which have strong ties with the UK.

So without a professional league of their own, many Indians who like football are part of the worldwide fanbases of clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Of course, the other issue is that the standard of play in the EPL is much higher than in the ISL, as the English top flight fixtures regularly televised in India attest.

But it’s still very early days for the ISL, and its cause is not helped by India’s lack of progress at international level.

The Indian national team have never qualified for a World Cup tournament, nor is its record in the AFC Asian Cup likely to excite fans, with just one appearance in the final – in 1964.

The future

Despite this, it would foolish to bet against football taking off, certainly at the domestic level, in India.

With its massive population and growing economy, if the ISL manages to divert just a fraction of the interest of Indian sports fans away cricket, it will surely achieve great things.

And the more established it becomes, with more teams added to the league, the more opportunities will be available to young kids who want to pursue a career in football.

The ISL’s cause is already being aided by plenty of celebrity involvement. Hindi film superstar Ranveer Singh helps to represent the EPL in India, adding to football’s cachet, and other actors such as Ranbir Kapoor own the football clubs like Mumbai city FC.

Given time, more teams, further investment and a growth in media coverage, football’s potential in India is enormous.

Seema Jaswal: from TV runner to Premier League presenter

Meet Seema Jaswal, a multi-talented British TV anchor and presenter. She is a representative for the Premier League post-match reviews, Fantasy Premier League shows and Premier League Fan Zone show on Sky Sports.

The sports industry has always been seen as a ‘man’s world’ and many women have had discouraging experiences.

But Seema has become one of the first Asian women presenters to represent the Premier League and reaches 750 million viewers globally. Her experience has been nothing but positive in every field.

Jaswal, who is extremely popular on social media, says her favourite hashtag is #lovemyjob, “because I genuinely do!”

No negativity

Her success in the industry is a huge inspiration to a lot of females. She truly believes that everyone should do what they love, despite any blocks that may come your way.

“I am fortunate to have been in the industry at a time when things have changed so much for women in sport. especially in the UK,” she says.

“I have never faced any negativity about being female and have always worked with professionals that appreciate the work I do based on merit.

Jaswal wanted to get a job in research or marketing after graduating from university. However, as she started applying for jobs she soon realised that her career needed to be both fulfilling and something she enjoyed.

She has always had a passion for tennis, and at one point she was determined to become a tennis coach. But she decided to keep that as a hobby and soon after she applied for a job at Sky Sports and started off her career as a runner.

Seema Jaswal

“Being a runner is an interesting job as the role varies from day to day. Occasionally you’re thrown into the deep end and asked to help out with shows, which opened my eyes to the possibility of presenting,” says Jaswal.

Her family have a Ugandan Asian background. Even today, girls with an Asian background can struggle to follow a path into the sports industry.

They are forced into careers which are more socially acceptable in their traditional society.

It is uncommon for a young Asian girl to be supported by her entire family, as Seema was, in pursuing a career in sports presenting.

Families look at the sports industry as very male dominated and panic when their daughters choose that path.

It is comforting for young girls to look up to role models like Seema Jaswal and aspire to be as successful.

Moving to India

After years of being a runner, Jaswal finally felt confident and ready to embrace any new opportunities that came her way.

She started off presenting CBBC’s Sports Round, a show that involved trying out lots of different sports on a weekly basis.

Jaswal was also the presenter on The Wright Stuff before relocating to India for 18 months to become the face of Indian football for Star Sports.

Soon after she moved to India she was offered an opportunity to work for the Premier League, which is when she decided to move back to London.

Seema Jaswal at the FIFA U-17 World Cup

The live events presenter was thrilled with an opportunity to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

It was her most recent and successful venture and it filled her with excitement, turning out to be one of her biggest achievements. It was great days for England as they went on to win the trophy.

“I really enjoyed seeing the tournament through from start to finish and it was an honour to host India’s first ever FIFA event with the likes of David Moyes, Stuart Pearce and Luis Garcia to name a few,” says Jaswal.

Role model

Many people seem to think women are treated worse than men and have no chance of growing within the sports industry. Seema, who has always been appreciated for her work based on merit is a prime example that the industry is very open towards everyone. The effort you put in is always rewarded in any field, irrespective of gender.

A lot of different countries treat women differently in the sporting world. However the UK has always been one of the more accepting and encouraging countries for women to pursue a career.

Jaswal covers two very different football leagues in The Premier League and the Indian Super League. The Premier league is an established league that is 26 years old with 20 teams competing in it and the ISL is a newly established league in its early stages of development.

The Premier League showcases some of the world’s greatest talents and the most exciting aspect in that any team can beat another on their day regardless of where they sit in the league table.

Jaswal has come very far in the industry. She has worked in many fields and she is destined for a big future within the industry. Being a female with an Asian background she is a huge role model to a lot of young girls.

Sanchez fails to inspire as Man Utd falter at Wembley

A blustery winter’s night failed to deter fans from flocking to Wembley for Tottenham’s crucial clash with Manchester United.

A new record Premier League attendance of 81,978 was drawn to the national stadium, but anyone taking their seats late because of the crowds missed a flying start by Spurs.

Wembley Stadium before a record PL crowd of nearly 82,000 filled the stadium

The build-up to the game had been dominated by the buzz surrounding the visitors’ latest recruit, Alexis Sanchez, with their fans confident the former Arsenal star’s goals and assists would justify his £500,00-a-week wages (plus Henrik Mkhitaryan heading to the Gunners in a swap deal).

But that pre-match optimism was extremely short-lived as Spurs scored straight from the kick-off, stunning United’s sizeable away following into silence.

It took just 11 seconds for Christian Eriksen to get on the end of flicks from Harry Kane and Dele Alli and side-foot home the joint-third fastest goal ever scored in the Premier League.

Spurs seemed to sense that that Jose Mourinho’s men were not at the races after returning to top-flight action following their routine win five days earlier at Yeovil in the FA Cup third round.

United had chances to equalise with Jesse Lingard coming close, however Mauricio Pochettino’s men were attacking at such a pace that it came as no surprise when Phil Jones turned Kieran Trippier’s cross into his own net to double their lead and effectively end the contest with barely 30 minutes on the clock.

Sanchez fails to shine

The United faithful didn’t even have the consolation of seeing Sanchez shine on his Premier League debut for their team.

The Chilean international delivered an anonymous performance, much to the delight of Tottenham’s fans, who gave him the kind of hostile reception they reserve for former Arsenal players.

Of course, Sanchez has yet to gel with his new team-mates, most of whom were similarly below par at Wembley, and the pressure on him to make an immediate impact was unfair.

The former Barcelona star was barely visible as he was continually harried by white shirts.

Manchester United train ahead of the game

After a poor opening 45 minutes on the left-hand side, Mourinho sought to change the momentum as he moved the 29-year-old into the number 10 role.

However, the switch came to nothing, as Tottenham’s sturdy defence kept the United’s new acquisition quiet throughout.

Good value

So it was a night to forget for United fans, with many leaving well before the final whistle, having seen their team out-played, out-thought and out-fought all over the pitch.

At least they had the consolation of only paying £30 to witness one of the Red Devils’ poorest performances of the season.

In previous campaigns, the cost of watching football – particularly for away fans – has been a hot topic of debate.

However, the Premier League made a breakthrough in 2016 when all 20 clubs agreed to cap away tickets at £30.

To watch Spurs dismantle United, with so many fine players on display on both sides, for that price was a bargain.

Whether the massive outlay invested in bringing Sanchez to Old Trafford ultimately comes to be viewed as value for money is another matter.

United’s defeat leaves them 15 points adrift of rivals Manchester City, with Mourinho admitting the title is now out of reach. Spurs moved to within two points of the top four.

Review – Battle of the Sexes

The audience knows how the story is going to end as soon as they start watching this fact-based drama…

At the very beginning of the movie, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is being announced as the winner of her one-off 1973 tennis match in Houston against Bobby Riggs.

King, was 29 at the time and a multiple champion. Riggs, a former Wimbledon and US Open winner, was 55 but claimed he could still beat any top female player. In front of a sell-out crowd and an estimated 90 million TV viewers around the world, King triumphed.

So the interest here lies not in the outcome, but how and why the contest was made in the first place, and what motivated both players to take part in match-up in which feminism, sexism, sport and celebrity collided in a gaudy $100,00-winner-takes all spectacle.

Gambling

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Riggs (Steve Carrell) comes across as a very light-hearted and optimistic guy, who loves practical jokes and has a gambling addiction.

He is married to Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue), whose well-to-do father sets him up with a job. However, this schemer and dreamer has neither the patience nor the motivation to sit behind a desk. 

Carrell plays him outstandingly well. He captures Riggs’ essential childishness; the immaturity of a former sports star who has found it hard to settle after hanging up his racquet, and eventually exasperates his wife so much that she leaves his for a “man”.

History sees Riggs as a chauvinist but, as played by Carrell, his main motivation wasn’t to degrade the opposite sex, it was about hustling as much money as possible by challenging and beating King.

Conflicted

King, already a champion of women’s rights in both sport and society in general, has her own issues to deal with, not least her sexuality.

Stone portrays her as being single-minded and ruthless when it comes to tennis. Her husband, Larry (Austin Stowe), says at one point: “If you get in between her and her game, you’ll be gone.”

But away from the court, King is conflicted and cheats on Larry after falling in love with her hairdresser (Andrea Risborough).

It’s here that the plot puts some top spin on the actual truth of King’s personal life at the time, in a bid to compress to key aspects of the professional, public and private into a two-hour running time.

Tensions

So this is definitely not a sports-based movie where the focus is mainly on sport.

Its main drama happens off court, and takes place against the rich backdrop of burgeoning feminism, the struggle for equality and the women’s rights movement of the 1970s.

That doesn’t mean that ‘Battle of the Sexes’ is an outright winner, however. At times, it is a little sluggish and uninteresting, but things start to pick up as the tensions build ahead of the climatic big game.

Of course, this is not a film where the outcome is in any doubt – the story is a true one, and well documented. But showing King in her prime winning in three sets against a guy in his 50s is not the point here.

It’s a character-led piece, and what’s going on in the minds and lives of its two main protagonists carries far more weight than what eventually happens when they meet across the net in Texas.

United take the spoils in a classic encounter

So much for parking the bus…

Aware that they could not afford to slip further behind their local rivals in the race for the title, Manchester United tore up the script and tore into Arsenal at the Emirates.

They were two goals up in 11 minutes against the shell-shocked Gunners, who pulled a goal back just after the break before a third for United made it 3-1.

Jose Mourinho is renowned for his spoiling tactics away from home against other teams towards the top of the table, but that approach was ditched in favour of one more in keeping with United’s rich attacking traditions.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger will be fuming that his side were caught napping by those two early goals, but in truth this was a deserved victory for his old rival.

The Frenchman and the Portuguese have been the best of enemies since the latter’s first stint at Chelsea, and they exchanged fiery words and a shove or two on the touchline a few seasons ago.

Buzzing

United celebrate Lingard’s second

Arsenal went in to the game in good form and full of confidence but were ambushed by Mourinho’s ambition to hit them hard straight from the off.

Within the first four minutes, Antonio Valencia took advantage of some slack Arsenal defending to put the visitors ahead.

With the Gunners still regrouping after that setback, Jesse Lingard made the most of Anthony Martial’s pass and chipped the ball over goalkeeper Petr Cech on 11 minutes to put United 2-0 up. Mourinho’s side were buzzing and bossed the first half of the game.

Whatever Wenger said to his troops at half-time clearly had an impact, and Alexandre Lacazette found the net in the 49th minute to give the disgruntled home fans hope of a comeback.

Nullifying the threat of Lacazette had probably not figured in United’s game plan. A few days earlier, Wenger had ruled him out of contention because of a groin injury, but the French striker was in the starting XI. Mourinho wasn’t alone in catching a whiff of something fishy…

Arsenal now had their tails up as that pre-match confidence flooded back, and United had David De Gea to thank for some outstanding saves in the second half. The Spanish stopper was rightly lauded as man of the match after keeping the Gunners at bay.

Sure enough, as the hosts pushed for the equaliser, they left the door open for United, and Lingard duly stepped through it to score his second.

On 64 minutes, a simple, rapid counter-attack instigated by Paul Pogba ended with Lingard side-footing home to give Arsenal a mountain to climb.

Lunge

The score remained 3-1 at the end of a breathtaking encounter, giving Mourinho a first win in his past 12 away fixtures against the Premier League’s ‘big six’.

However, it wasn’t all good news for United as they headed back north, with Pogba suspended for the vital Manchester derby clash on December 10th.

The midfielder was given a straight red in the 74th minute for a reckless lunge that saw his studs planted firmly into Hector Bellerin’s calf.

Mourinho, who is known for causing a scene when he disagrees with the referee’s judgement, perhaps surprisingly stayed in his seat rather than berate the fourth official.

Neither did Pogba’s team-mates seem to take issue with the sending off, and the general consensus among the travelling support was Pogba only had himself to blame.

Derby decider?

But United will go into the derby at Old Trafford buoyed this result and their performance at the Emirates.

Can they still catch City? Pep Guardiola’s team are widely viewed as champions elect this season, but it would be unwise to rule United out of the running just yet.

City also began last season at a blistering pace before slowing down after the hectic Christmas period.

Plus, United now seem better equipped to mount a serious title challenge. Apart from the occasion blip, their struggles of the previous campaign, as characterised by too many draws and uninspiring, narrow wins, seem to be behind them.

United are clearly getting more out of Pobga, now that the £85m midfielder has been given more freedom to roam forward, thanks to the summer signing of Nemanja Matic.

Lingard is now staking a strong claim to be a regular starter, with young talents such as Martial and Marcus Rashford improving all the time, and the likes of Phil Jones and Ashley Young realising their potential.

United can definitely challenge City this season if their current form continues, but the result of this weekend’s derby could go a long way to deciding the destination of the title.

Documentary highlights football’s enduring problems

As a young female football fan, attending a big match is often an unforgettable experience.

You are surrounding by thousands of fellow fans, singing, chanting and urging their team on. The star-name players and the stadium itself exude an aura of elite sport glamour.

Your first match at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, the Etihad or Emirates will generate memories that will last a lifetime.

There is still, however, a darker side to match days that often threatens to turn what should be a great day out into a fearful, even dangerous experience.

This is particularly the case outside of grounds. Inside stadia, CCTV and well-organised stewarding have largely eradicated the kind of trouble that used to blight the beautiful game.

But beyond the confines of all-seater venues, large groups of rival fans can quickly be transformed into uncontrollable, battling mobs.

Chaotic

I have been to quite a few football matches and witnessed absolutely terrifying, chaotic scenes.

‘Hooliganism still lingers on the streets around football grounds, in pubs and bars, at rail stations and on trains’

Under the influence of alcohol, supporters confront each other, sometimes before but usually after a match. Beer bottles are smashed, punches thrown, abuse hurled.

I always close my jacket when leaving a stadium, covering my club jersey to avoid any interaction with drunken fans, unable to show support for my team in public.

On trains, I prefer to put my headphones on and make no eye contact, trying to ignore those supporters who seem to delight in behaving in an intimidating manner.

Even as a football fan, it can leave me terrified, so I can’t imagine how horrifying it must be for non-football fans who happen to be on the train as well.

Misbehaving

A recent edition of the Channel 4 documentary series Dispatches highlighted the problem. It followed undercover police officers as they boarded trains with hidden cameras to catch fans misbehaving.

‘More police officers on trains would be a step forward to making it a safer journey for all passengers’

The programme showed supporters being racist and harassing young women and the elderly. Some were arrested and fined a few months later, admitting – when they saw the footage – they were  extremely sorry and embarrassed about how they had acted.

Britain’s public transport network is always busy, often overcrowded, and no-one should feel unsafe and threatened by groups of hooligans. Sadly, there is no way that the police can patrol every train carrying football fans to and from matches and crack down on any anti-social behaviour.

The UK government urges clubs to take more responsibility for their fans’ actions, but they rightly argue there is nothing they can do once supporters leave the stadium.

More action needed

However, I believe clubs can do more in terms of setting the right tone for how fans should behave whilst watching their heroes in action.

Earlier this year, Manchester United took action to persuade their fans not to keep using a chant about striker Romelu Lukaku which had racist connotations.

United enlisted Lukaku himself to urge them to stop, but when some persisted they were caught on CCTV, identified and punished.

But while hooliganism has largely been removed from stadia these days, it still lingers on the streets around them, in pubs and bars, at rail stations and on trains.

On trains, more money needs to be found to increase patrols by British Transport Police and their regular force colleagues.

The stations themselves often have a significant police presence, but post-match journeys can often be fraught with worry and tension.

More officers on trains would be a step forward to making it a safer journey for all passengers.

Ritu Phogat (second from left)

Female Indian wrestler fighting stereotypes as well as opponents

“Every girl should confess her passion to her family and show what really matters to them.”

Ritu Phogat (above, second left) speaks eloquently about the challenges she and her three sisters faced in India as they pursued their dream to become elite wrestlers.

Despite their father being former wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, the siblings met with rejection, derision and misogyny in a society where sportswomen battle to gain acceptance and support.

Such are the daunting barriers they face that Phogat’s father had all but given up hope that the family name would continue in wrestling.

But three of them – Geeta, Babita and Ritu  – have done him proud on the international stage, as have his nieces Vinesh and Priynka, who he also trains.

Medal success

Geeta was India’s first female wrestler to qualify for the Olympics and won Commonwealth gold in the 55kg freestyle category.

Babita, Ritu and Vinesh are also all Commonwealth champions and looking forward to more medal success at next year’s Games in Australia.

Perhaps more importantly, they are all trailblazers for Indian women discouraged by their society’s traditional gender stereotypes from achieving their sporting potential.

Ritu, 23, told me: “As an international player, I love supporting female sportswomen, I always encourage them to work hard and prove everyone wrong.

“We Indians are more emotional and connected to our culture, so we care too much about what society thinks of us.”

Changes

Such is the inspirational nature of the Phogats’ story that last year it received the Bollywood treatment in the feature film Dangal, directed by Nitesh Tiwari.

In the film, Mahavir (played by Aamir Khan) makes Ritu’s elder two sisters take up wrestling, much to their initial embarrassment.

But they soon realise how much it means to their father to see them competing and growing in confidence, and they – and their younger sister – embrace the sport with great success.

“The movie shows how my life exactly was, we faced many problems but we overcame them together,” said Ritu, who this month competes at the U23 World Championships in Poland.

Ritu has since gone on to become the most expensive female wrestler in India’s Pro Wrestling League auction, joining the Jaipur Ninjas for 360,000 rupees.

It’s a far cry from her younger years, when the family were mocked by their fellow villagers, disowned by their own extended family and the sisters laughed at by schoolmates.

More competitive

However, Ritu claimed Indian women aiming for careers in sport still face hostility because “Society matters, [the opinions of] others matter”.

She added:  “It won’t get better for the new generation, in fact it will be harder and much more competitive.”

But the fact that she is one of eight Indian woman heading to Poland for the U23 Worlds tells its own story.

Things are changing in Indian society, albeit very slowly in some respects. But each time another young girl chooses to pursue her ambitions in sport, pioneers such as Geeta, Sabita Ritu and their cousins have won a wider victory.

Photo courtesy of Ritu Phogat; you can follow Ritu on Twitter @PhogatRitu

Review: The Emirates Stadium self-guided audio tour

On average, most football stadia will only welcome match day customers once a week. The rest of the time, they stand empty and under-used. 

But for those that are home to successful clubs – particularly ones with an internationally-recognised brand – stadium tours have become a lucrative money-spinner.

It helps if, like Arsenal FC, you have an iconic 60,000-seat state-of-the-art venue to show off, as well as a long history of winning trophies and fielding legendary players.

Likewise, it helps that the London club are well placed to take advantage of the thousands of football tourists who flock to the city from overseas.

But do you have to be an Gunners fan to really get the most out of a visit to the Emirates Stadium? Not necessarily, but – again – it probably helps…

Souvenirs

There are several tour options at the Emirates, including VIP packages where your host will be a former Arsenal star and perks such as lunch, drinks and a goody bag are included. Yours for just £350…

‘Everyone sat quietly, listening to their audio player and drinking in the atmosphere of the famous stadium’

The cheapest option to check out what is currently England’s third-largest football ground after Wembley Stadium and Old Trafford is a self-guided audio tour.

Offered in nine languages, these are priced from £14 for under-16s, with students and OAPs charged £17 and standard adult entry for £20. Family tickets are £55.

You don’t have to book your ticket in advance; you can pay on the spot and enter the tour any time between 9am and 6pm.

Naturally, you enter through the Arsenal merchandise shop so you can size up any souvenirs you might wish to buy as a memento of your trip, from towels to mugs.

Atmosphere

The home dressing room at the Emirates Stadium
The home dressing room at the Emirates Stadium

Once you buy your ticket, your are given a pair of Arsenal headphones and a small audio player, which explains each part of the tour as you follow the route.

The first floor features statues of Arsenal legends – this is probably the part where being a die-hard Gooner is an advantage.
Pride of place goes to a huge figure of the club’s longest-serving and current manager Arsene Wenger.

Moving on, the second floor was my favourite as it gives you access to the directors box, looking down on the pristine playing surface.

You can be there for as long as you like, and everyone sat quietly, listening to their audio player and drinking in the atmosphere of the famous stadium.

You can imagine how exciting and noisy it must be on match day.

Spacious

After that, the tour takes you into the inner sanctum of any stadium – the players’ changing rooms.

I had always wondered what it would be like to stand in one at a famous club, and can assure they are definitely an upgrade on the ones we used before PE at my old school!

The home side’s facilities feature a huge jacuzzi, as well as a massive shower room and beds for physio and massages. Once you pass those, you enter the actual changing room itself, where the players shirts hang.

Visitors also get to walk up the tunnel and out into the stadium itself at pitch level. As a football fan, it’s an amazing experience you will never forget – even without those 60,000 spectators.

As a budding sports journalist, I was also fascinated to see the press conference room and the area where managers and players get interviewed after matches.

Good memories

The tour ended in a room full of replicas of the trophies won by Arsenal down the years, although the FA Cup (pictured right) – which they won last season – was possibly the real thing?

It’s a room of good memories for any visiting Gunners fan, although it will also remind them that their team haven’t won the Premier League title since 2003-04, when the ‘Invicibles’ went  unbeaten throughout their league campaign.

Despite their troubles in recent seasons, Arsenal are a top club with an amazing history, and the self-guided audio tour of the Emirates is well worth doing.

You can do it whenever you want (match days excluded) and take your own time – there’s no pressure to keep up with a group of people, and you are allowed to linger.

The staff were friendly, welcoming and helpful, and the Emirates is just a 10-minute walk from Highbury & Islington underground station.

But back to that question: do you need to be an Arsenal supporter to really enjoy the tour? Well, I’m a Manchester United fan, but I’m very happy I did it.

For more details on tours of the Emirates Stadium, visit the Arsenal website.