This has been a year like no other. If you've had any semblance of a pulse you'll know that 2016 has been filled with the good, the bad and the shocking. Sports was no different.
In international sports you had Leicester City's improbable EPL title, Usain Bolts third triple and Phelps owning more gold than Bappi. Then there was Spieth's 12th hole at the Masters, Portugal winning the Euro, Djoko's start to the year and of course his end to the year, I could go on.
On the Indian side, we had our moments—Kohli and Ashwin became greater, Vijender Singh became a champion and hockey showed signs that it may be on its way back. Then you had the debacle at the Olympics—a two-medal return from Brazil despite the highest of expectations. On the surface of it, Indian sports had a below average year. But when you look at it a little deeper, the impact of my pick of Indian sportsperson of the Year 2016 might make it a transformational year for Indian sports.
No one can deny that Indian sportswomen outperformed the men in 2016. They broke barriers, achieved new heights but most importantly they won.
The Indian sportsperson of the year 2016 is the Indian Sportswoman.
No one can deny that Indian sportswomen outperformed the men in 2016. They broke barriers, achieved new heights but most importantly they performed in the one category that sports people are measured by—they won.
PV Sindhu (Badminton): Silver medallist, Rio Olympics; winner, China Open Super Series; winner, Malaysia Masters.
Sakshi Malik (Wrestling): Bronze medallist, Rio Olympics
Dipa Karmakar (Gymnastics): First Indian gymnast to compete in the Olympics, fourth in the Individual Vault. Missed a medal by a whisker.
Aditi Ashok (Golf): 18 years old, won back-to-back tournaments, Hero Women's Indian Open, Qatar Ladies Open and is on the verge of qualifying for the LPGA.
Sania Mirza (Tennis): Reached a world ranking of #1 in Doubles. Won Australian Open and two additional doubles tournaments.
Women's Cricket Team: Won T20 Asia Cup.
There are other sportswomen like Saina Nehwal and Deepika Kumari who may not have had a great 2016 but who continue to be achievers in their respective fields.
Indian women are beating the odds and winning. These women haven't done it without support. Encouraging parents and NGOs help nurture and develop these women's natural talent and determination.
Ordinarily I wouldn't make a pick such as this. Why talk about sports in terms of men and women? I have never picked the best Indian sportsman, so why this bias toward women?
Because the reality is that India still lives in ancient times. We still live in a country where most people believe that the best career option for a woman is marriage. In my line of work I have met a number of parents in Mumbai and Delhi who believe that their daughter must complete their education by 22 so that they can begin their career as a wife and homemaker. Tragic, but true.
To add to the problem, sports, as a career in India, is in its infancy. With leagues emerging, high-value contracts being signed and the potential to make money with a certain degree of visibility emerging, parents are slowly coming to terms with their child who wants to become the next Virat Kohli. Yet for girls this allowance and support from parents has always been light years away.
If 2016 taught us anything in Indian sports it is that sportswomen deserve as much if not more support from the sporting community than men.
If 2016 taught us anything in Indian sports it is that sportswomen deserve as much if not more support from the sporting community than men. Given this support, there's every chance that they will outperform the Indian men who seem trapped in a web of consistent underperformance even when they have the resources.
But no NGO or government scheme can succeed unless girls are supported at home. It is the parents who will need to take the initiative to get the ball rolling. With the inspiring stories of 2016 I have no doubt that a certain percentage, albeit very small, of mindsets have changed.
So when you see your daughter wanting to play a sport, throw a ball, or run fast, don't label her a "tomboy". Don't tell her that sports are for boys that she should play with dolls and easy-bake ovens. Encourage her, support her and make sure she gets all the resources that you would provide a boy.
As the list of Indian sportswomen increases in the years to come we may look back at 2016 as the spark that got the fire going. Till then, let's just raise our glasses and toast the Indian sportsperson of the year 2016—the Indian Sportswoman