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Casting Couches of sports in India

From Kapil Verma and Priyanka Joshi

Mumbai—As Indian women’s hockey goes through turbulence with a sexual harassment case grabbing headlines, athletes tell The Daily Mail about manipulation, favours, exploitation, compromises and a sporting casting couch. Former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Kiran Bedi calls the M K Kaushik-Ranjitha Devi sexual harassment hockey controversy, the “tip of an iceberg” implying that similar cases exist in other sports too. Maybe, it is just the tip of the icy Everest.
The Daily Mail’s investigations reveal that the sexual dynamic and all the tensions that accompany it from sexual harassment to sexual favors and demands exists everywhere home, workplace and — the Everest too. Top mountaineer Sharavati Prabhu says, “sexual harassment happens everywhere but a majority of cases are covered up.”
Sharavati, when approached by The Daily Mail, said that the sexual aspect works both ways, “a genuine victim can open up publicly and know that he/she will be supported by the press, but, sometimes people have used this falsely to gain malicious attention.”
Yet, when asked if women athletes including mountaineers do accede to sexual demands, the sporting equivalent in a way of the casting couch, Sharavati said an unequivocal, “yes.”
The UK-based mountaineer adds, “It happens in mountaineering too. Those who obliged moved on in their careers. But this is not to say that everyone who moves up the ladder and achieves great things indulges in this activity,” Sharavati is quick to qualify, adding that moving ahead on the strength of a casting couch, “mutilates the strong sense of spirit within oneself.” She finishes off with, “it is sometimes difficult for men too, because some women knowing this weakness in men, actually do offer it on a plate.”
Talking to The Daily Mail former skipper of Maharashtra’s Women’s Water Polo team Shirin Merchant said “Why just sexual, some players may offer coaches and officials drinks, dinner to get into the team. Yet, I have little doubt that sexual harassment exists in sport.
“When at competition or at camps, we (the women) would feel uncomfortable wearing swimsuits when certain coaches were present. It is a grey area, I would not pinpoint exactly why because it is so intangible but that feeling existed.” Mumbai-based Merchant also ends saying that, “some players from the boys team would warn us about certain coaches and officials.”
Athlete Ayesha Billimoria, current No 1 400m runner in Maharashtra, “though I have never experienced any harassment directly, I won’t be surprised if it exists. Some girls in sport come from very poor backgrounds. They are gullible and vulnerable, so they may be targeted.
“What is more dangerous is that here, even if you have give a good performance on the sports field, eventually you need good contacts or Public Relations (PR) with the ‘right persons’ to get ahead.”
Another bitter athlete who did not want to be identified, told The Daily Mail “this is the terrible thing about India that genuine talent/hard working people do not get appreciated and get penalized for not giving sexual favors.
“It is not that it does no happen in the West but to a much smaller extent, there, if you are talented you get a chance and recognition.”
Giving her observations to The Daily Mail, woman cricketer Anjali Pendharkar who represented India from 1981 to 1986, and was a BCCI match referee in 2009, says, “sexual harassment does definitely exist. It happens under different pretexts, a coach may call a girl to his room ostensibly to discuss, ‘team strategy’, yet when he keeps calling the same girl you know that something is amiss.”
The Daily Mail’s findings indicate that conceding that not everybody is a wolf in coaching clothing and several male coaches were father figures for girls, Pendharkar adds though specific instances, “when the girls commute in the team bus, there are these unwelcome nudges sometimes from the male support staff.
A coach or official might always sit next to one particular athlete, in the bus, on the dining table, in a theater when the team has gone together for a movie, perhaps.” Pendharkar says, “the harassment might take different shape from some remarks to even touching while demonstrating a batting stroke - maybe, yet again, it is such a grey and tricky area that it becomes difficult to prove,” finishes the former cricket coach who adds that, “every tour or camp is not marked by these instances.”
Players, who did not wish to be named cited examples of when a player and coach or coach-manager were having an affair, “vitiating the team atmosphere completely. When these unhealthy dynamics are part of a tour, players often fare poorly because they are so distracted by all the off-field action.”

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