It has been an incredible week for Indian sport. Even before the euphoria of winning the Thomas Cup in badminton died down, Nikhat Zareen brought applause to the country which is slowly getting used to more and more sporting success. When she stood at the top of the podium, there was collective joy. The whole country celebrated as one. That’s the beauty of sport. Even in this divided society of extreme reactions, in this world of ecstasy, anxiety and social media defamation, sport has the power to overcome barriers regardless of caste, creed and religion.
On another level, Nikhat can be considered an iconoclast. For a Muslim girl from Nizamabad, getting into a male-dominated sport was not easy. The 25-year-old former world junior boxing champion had to constantly struggle with societal norms as a child and growing up as a boxer. When she started showing her skills inside the ring, she started to face formidable challenges from her elders and peers.
At one point, she had to endure mental trauma when she challenged six-time World Championship gold medalist MC Mary Kom for a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She ultimately lost the fight in acrimonious circumstances but never gave up. So when she won the gold medal at the world championships, it meant more than just a medal. It was the result of these multiple challenges that she had to overcome. As she admits herself, “I am very stubborn”. And she is stubborn. But one with a big heart and the ability to inspire.
Since the introduction of women’s boxing at the London Olympics in 2012, Mary Kom has won a bronze medal. Earlier, Vijender Singh won India’s first boxing medal at the Beijing Olympics. In London, Saina Nehwal won a bronze medal in badminton. Since then, both sports have grown in both quality and quantity. However, the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was not good for both as commuters and boxers won fewer medals than expected. These two results would bode well for India as our athletes prepare for greater challenges, including the Paris Olympics in 2024.