After three women athletes were welcomed with pomp and pride after their performance in Rio Olympics, the media has belatedly focused on the question of the facilities (or the lack thereof) to train future athletes. Frustrated with the media silence on the issue except around each Olympics, two Bengaluru women have taken to anonymously painting women athletes’ names on public walls with the hashtag ‘Against All Odds’.
Recently interviewed by Tanya Kini of The Ladies Finger, the women who prefer to be known only as AR and KM have painted the names of Dipa Karmakar, Aditi Ashok, PV Sindhu and Lalita Babar at Church Street, MG Road, Lavelle Road, Hosur Road, and on 12th Main in Indiranagar. These names are accompanied by the athletes’ silhouettes and the hashtag.
The two women make their graffiti early in the morning, mostly on weekends, donning bandanas, scarves and caps in an effort to be inconspicuous. They aim to put the athletes’ names in areas which are “deserted but highly visible. And despite being noticed sometimes by security guards and auto-drivers, no one has ever stopped them, but usually regard them rather curiously.
AR told Tanya Kini that she hopes people see and takes note of the names, because it is high time people stop walking away from the conversation on sports. “It isn’t fair that we criticise our athletes to the extent that we do, and that we then shower, literally smother them with praise, money and worship when they do win. It’s a really strange system of extremes,” she said.
As for the significance of the hashtag, AR said that “athletics and sports demand grit, determination and extraordinary strength.” But athletes from India not only need these qualities, but must also “deal with inadequate or unsafe training facilities, the bureaucracy of the Sports Ministry, a lack of financial support from the Ministry.”
Both AR and KM were based in the US and when they came back to India, they realized the difference in the support and facilities given to athletes, as well as how the media covered them: “With a sense of disappointment, or a ‘what more can you expect’. And what made me even more angry was how their tone would change dramatically at the faintest whiff of a win or a medal,” AR told The Ladies Finger.
KM, who met AR through mutual friends, has played golf for six years in India and so, both women bonded over Olympics and sports. They duo had already been planning to spray paint silhouettes for the ’50 Million Missing’ campaign (to fight female genocide in India). While planning for that project one night, and also discussing the Olympics, they decided to use silhouettes and names to appreciate athletes as well.
So far they have only spray-painted names of athletes who went to Rio, but plan to include the names of those who haven't as well.
The duo wants to draw attention to the inequality between men’s and women’s sports in India, the potential that women athletes possess and up the pressure on the government to provide them with the facilities they need. They hope that the silhouettes will keep the conversation going about sport even after the media hype has died down.
Read the full interview here.