Monday, October 17, 2005

On 'changing the world'

Hmm, hate to say I told you so but way back in March, I expressed a similar thought. Of course, I merely stated Sania was 'more than a tennis player'. The New Statesman, described by HT as one of the 'most respected political-literary-cultural weeklies in the UK has listed Sania as one of the men and women who will "transform the world".

In his article on Sania, Jason Cowley writes about the “world-transforming potential of a young, attractive, articulate and media-smart teenage Muslim tennis star”. Like it or not the 'M' word has been used. The scarcity of Muslim women in any profession involving wearing of short skirts is glaring enough to lead to that reference.

But this being the NS, the idea is to see Sania — and her sport — as a symbol of a bigger, more sociologically significant phenomenon. “Muhammad Ali, Pele, Evonne Goolagong, Viv Richards, the so-called ghetto Cinderellas Venus and Serena Williams and the Chinese basketball star Yao Ming — these sporting icons, because of their fame, achievement and corporate power, have helped to transform the way mainstream sporting audiences think about race, gender and the old political structures that once controlled the games we play.

“Can Mirza have a similarly transformative effect, not only in India but also throughout the world? She may not have won a major tournament, yet already she occupies a role through which flow many of the most significant intellectual and cultural currents of our times: the clash between secularism and political Islam, the emancipation of women in the Muslim world, the dominance of celebrity, the tyranny of the image, the emergence of India as a world power,” Cowley writes.

Well, I would really like to buy into this - though Sania has a long way to go before she can be compared to Pele and Muhammad Ali in terms of sporting achievement. I personally believe she will get there but even if she doesn't reach the heights of a Serena Williams, I would not crucify her. She's gone further than any Indian woman has gone before in her sport.

Whenever she speaks I'm amazed she still has her young head on her shoulders. Which is more than can be said about our not-so-young (and far worse performing) cricketers.

Also on the New Statesman list: US Senator Barack Obama; physicist Anton Zeilinger; Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf; environmentalist Aubrey Meyer; the Emir of Qatar; Kierra Box, “20-year-old politico-prodigy”; Net entrepreneur Brewster Kahle, Victoria Hale, whose healthcare group brings cheap medicine to the poor; and Mo Ibrahim, chief of the fastest growing mobile phone group in sub-Saharan Africa.

Glad to see a list of relatively unknown names... that itself is a welcome change in a run-of-the-mill-celeb-hungry media world!


  1. Well Rashmi , agree with you wholeheartedly but for one point . You cannot say cricketers arefar worse performing. Well Sania has till date won just WTA event . She has potential but is not yet in the top league. Cricketis a team game and we do get brilliant individual performances but right now the team isn't clicking . So , unfair to say that Sania is better off . No logical comparison can be made . The silver lining is that Sania is getting as much attention as any of our top cricketers do. And that is a great sign !!!!

  2. Its easy to be the second or third best when there is only one strong opponent. Indian Cricket is precisely that. We can take pride on our global achievments in Cricket and 'Kabbadi' only because there are few worthy competition. Sania Mirza's victories are much more significant than a Cricket Worldcup second.

  3. The M reference might be a subtle reference to the state of minorities in a particular country. I mean, if a Muslim teenaged girl in short skirts is considered an idol in India, then things must be pretty optimistic. Reality might be different but the image sure looks impressive.

  4. I think the media is largely responsible for giving Sania this 'larger than life' image. I think we in India like to idolize people provided the person fits into a particular profile.

    The media has been very unfair at least in the case of Anju George who is at present ranked no.4 in her sport and has been winning consistently in all the major tournaments and who I believe has achieved much more than Sania has done until now. Of course, the sport nor the athlete is as 'media-friendly' as Sania. Not to take any credit away from Sania, but I believe she needs to go a long way before she can be acknowledged as a 'transformational' material.

    Let's give her some space and not jump the gun!

  5. Kinda agree and disagree with you in equal measures on this one. Agreed that she has gone to levels where no female indian tennis player has gone and would go further too. But really, in context of the game at large, she is a top 50 player, thats it. To give her the kind of attention she gets (there were huge articles in the newspapers yesterday on how her ranking fell from 31 to 32!!) isn't really being fair to her. But then again deifying and expecting the world of our sportsmen and women isn't something new to us Indians.It's almost a national passtime to set them up for a fall.

    If she has the capacity to be a top 10 player is something that only time will tell but would she be a media burnout before she gets there, that is something that is in the media's control.

    Will have to agree that she has been a fantastic in how she has handled media and popularity so far.

  6. Sania Mirza and Koneru Humpy-achievers yet poles apart

    Like Sania Mirza, Koneru Humpy is a 'first' for an Indian woman. Born on March 31, 1987, she is a chess grandmaster. Her April 2004 FIDE ELO rating is 2513, placing her as No. 3 in the world for women. Humpy was originally named Hampi by her parents but her father later changed it to Humpy, a more Russian sounding name. Koneru Humpy has setup a new World Record of becoming the Youngest-Ever Woman to achieve the Men's GM Title. Humpy has achieved the Men's GM Title at the age of 15 years , 1 month, and 27 Days beating Judith Polgar's record of 15 years, 4 months and 27 days.

    Fellow-Hyderabadi Sania Mirza is only a year older. Since her debut at the US Open, in which she made it to Round 4, before losing to top-seed Maria Sharapova, Sania is ranked No.32 in the WTA rankings. Sania is an icon in India, is grabbing endorsements left, right and centre and has suddenly become the poster-girl of international sports. Where does that leave Koneru Humpy? Literally-nowhere. She's had her moments on national TV and a page or two in national news magazines, but then its zippo.

    There is a not-so-subtle difference between the two, you see. Sania is the streaked, midriff-baring , PYT with loads of attitude, huge earrings and a nosepin to match. Humpy Koneru, in contrast, is the bespectacled, shy, youngster-certainly not one who looks like she can keep pace with Gen X. Is it not enough to be an achiever anymore? Has the age of superficial behaviour reached such mammoth levels that achievers must also be spin-doctored to look and act a certain way? What if Sania resembled Humpy and didn't attend post-match media interactions in T-shirts which say 'I am cute? No s***.?

    We have heard how Sania's favourite colours are red and black, how she likes Ocean's 11 and Brad Pitt and Hugh Grant. Likes listening to hip hop including Eminem, ... also likes playing cricket and swimming ... most admires Gandhi ... also admires tennis play of Steffi Graf.
    And we want to hear more. The country and several parts of the world are in the grip of a Sania Mania and no one is denying it, or wanting to anyway. Research and researchers tell us that in society, attractive people tend to be more intelligent, better adjusted, and more popular. This is described as the halo effect - due to the perfection associated with angels. Research shows attractive people also have more occupational success and more dating experience than their unattractive counterparts. One theory behind this halo effect is that it is accurate -attractive people are indeed more successful.

    The poignant part would be if beauty takes away from achievement and becomes the new benchmark for choosing icons.

    please get back to me if i am wrong.


  7. I don't think Humpy cares. Not sure sport was ever meant to be about the "fringe benefits".

  8. Sania has handled all the pressures brought about by the unprecedented hype created by the media! That by itself shows her inner strength and calibre to be a high achiever!

    But this particular article in The New Statesman seems to be exaggerating stuff to a great extent!

  9. Hope I am wrong, but there's just too much hype and 3 years is the most she'll survive. She will scale some heights, but I feel most of the comments we hear from competitors, commentators sounds like "Wow!! A female tennis star from a third-world country of ONE BILLION people emerges after FIFTY EIGHT years of independence. And she looks good to go on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition as well. And she's muslim. How amazing!!!". Let's face it. She's good, but just not fit enough for the game. 3 tournaments and a injury. Loads of attitude, which is so good because it's something we Indians in general never show. But I fear, that's just about it. Attitude.

    Will be so happy to see her make it to the top...and I mean the TOP because a country of ONE BILLION people so starved of heroes and heroines has to somewhere stop accepting that being in the top 10 is good enough. It's not. #10 means 9 people are better than you. Is it a fair expectation? Maybe not. But for the number of products she's going to endorse very soon (will surely beat Sachin with two more tournament wins), she better make it to th e TOP or it will be another case of flattering to deceive. Btw, anyone heard of P.Gopichand after the All England Open win? Or Koneru Hampi or Anju George? Let's stop going ga-ga about sports(wo)men for giving us something to cheer about, we express our gratitude quite adequately by buying the products they peddle.

    Heck!! This can go on my blog too.

  10. Unlike when we started winning Miss India, I don't think one Sania can inspire many other girls (or boys) to take up tennis or sports in general. A sporting career requires far too much dedication and commitment! Not only from the player but his / her family!

    Glamour on the other hand is a quick fix, you can always fail at acting/ modelling but then marry a rich guy with your improved looks :)

  11. And what can’t the media do……
    Sania Mirza,the tennis player who can change the world…
    If just posing for a few ads,playing tennis and wearing some short skirts can change the world,then why not all of us try? If some people think a girl belonging to a conservative religion playing tennis in a short attractive skirt is revolutionary, then they definitely have got the definition of the word wrong.

    Well,just one question – If Sania had been just another girl,dressed in a knee-length skirt(not in minis) and not good-looking, would she have had the potential to change the world? Probably she would, for the mere fact that she went out and fought herself into the international picture, but definitely not according to the media. If Sania played so well and gave her opponents a tough time,but not win , what’s lacking in her? The spirit to put up that fight till the end… And if that’s the case, we will see her putting up a good fight in all her matches and not win a single match . I don’t see how she will sustain herself in international tennis …

    Near winners cannot change the world, real winners can try to.

    Probably the media can moderate their opinion,good or bad, about Sania or any person .

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