In response to an RTI application filed by The Indian Express, Sports Authority of India (SAI) has disclosed data regarding complaints of sexual abuse at its various institutes. Established in 1961, SAI is registered as a society under the Societies Act, 1860. It works under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports for the promotion of sports and games in India.
In our country, women have to face many obstacles if they want to pursue sports as a career. These cases of sexual assault bear testimony to the fact that women are more vulnerable to exploitation in every field. It must be noted that 29 out of the 45 complaints received in the past ten years were against coaches. The actual number might be higher, given the phenomenon of under-reporting. Many women athletes and players fear to report such cases out of fear of spoiling their career. Often, even after gathering the courage to register a complaint, they are forced to withdraw it under pressure. It is difficult to generate support from fellow trainees owing to mutual rivalry or them having close relations with the coach.
Since most women players do not have a strong socio-economic background, the power dynamics in the coach and trainee relationship get further skewed. The coach assumes too much power as the career of the player lies in his hands. The various forms of sexual abuse include molestation in the form of groping to threatening, blackmailing, physical and verbal abuse. Many accused were acquitted while several other inquiries are pending. Action was taken in a case registered by five minor girls from the north-east wherein their coach touched them inappropriately. He was punished by giving compulsory retirement in August 2017. But not every case has been dealt with urgency.
“I do believe that the actual number of cases will be much higher than reported because everybody does not have courage to report them. I did not realise the extent to which sexual harassment was an issue,” said Ms. Neelam Kapur, chief of SAI from February 2018 to July 2019.
Cases of harassment were reported at training centres in locations such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Kashipur, Kozhikode, Cuttack, Bhopal, Bengaluru, Gandhinagar, and Aurangabad, to name a few.
It is a sign of the profanization of the sacred when the guru or coach turns a predator. First and foremost, what is needed is a mechanism to deal with cases of such kind, which also works on gender sensitization. All players must be aware whom to approach in case of any untoward incidents, and must be encouraged any and all forms of harassment. Unequal power dynamics put upcoming young talent in a situation where they feel afraid to speak up. Laws are in place, but women must be supported so that they can report such cases without the fear of giving up on their future. Unless our training centres become women-friendly, women players cannot feel safe and excel at their game. Safety is a basic right.