One of the greatest sportspersons of all time, Serena Williams, drew focus on a vital part of a female athlete's career that's not acknowledged or spoken of much – the choice they have to make between excelling in their sporting career or taking a break to fulfill their wish to become a mother.
While announcing her decision to retire in an editorial in Vogue magazine, Serena said she wanted to focus on her family and try to have a second child – a choice she said she 'never thought' she would have to make. "If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family," she wrote.
This simple statement from the greatest ever female sportsperson resonated with many across the world and helped draw focus on the big choice that almost every single female sportsperson has to make in their careers.
The Quint spoke to former Indian cricket captain Anjum Chopra about the same, including the glaring lack of support from the government or sports bodies in the country for those athletes who choose the path of motherhood.
Serena Williams is retiring at 40, not because of an injury or form or fitness, she's made the decision to walk away from tennis to have a second child. Do you feel that this facet of a female sportsperson's career is just not spoken of enough? The sacrifice some have to make to put their careers on hold to have a child or the sacrifice of others who have to put motherhood on hold to have a child?
For a female athlete, it’s definitely a massive decision that they need to make. And before we even say that a decision needs to be made… even before this sentence is said… they are judged. For or against.
I think more than just the decision, it’s about countering the fact that you are judged by society. Before you get into sports, you are judged whether you should or should not be getting into sports, and once you get into sports, then there’s another discussion altogether about how you are, how you play, and how you look. Then of course there’s the question of marriage – will you be able to get married or not? Then, even after you get married, the discussion is about whether you can continue and till when.
It’s a very constant process of asking questions of a female athlete, much more than a male player, and the journey just continues with more questions and it finishes as a judgement being passed or a verdict being passed against you.
Serena Williams has Olympia, Sania Mirza has a son, Bismah Maroof has a daughter – these amazing athletes could make a successful comeback in their sport thanks to provisions in the system. Tennis has a protected ranking for women on maternity break, PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) has a maternity policy that allowed Bismah to return and captain in her first event back.
Do you feel the Indian Sports Ministry and the BCCI could do something in the way of announcing support for female athletes who want to embrace motherhood but need some help to know that they will be welcomed back?
I don’t think that day is far when that support is extended. For all you know, it might already be in the corridors of discussion. It is not too difficult to offer someone help when they are away on maternity leave. For a tennis association to give back the ranking to a tennis player is a great support lent but at the end of the day, the female athlete still has to be fit enough to walk onto the court and then play.
So, that’s the least support an organisation can give and I’m pretty sure if required, a provision like this will be made by the ministry or the BCCI.