Written by Arunasri Maganti & Garima Yadav
Earlier this year, when Indian hoopster Prashanti Singh made it to the Padma Shri list, it was an acknowledgment of her eventful journey in basketball that started in Varanasi 22 years ago. It was also an overdue recognition of her sport, that she felt was popular but didn’t get the attention it deserved.
With her three sisters immersed in the game as well, Prashanti believes the award, that followed the Arjuna in 2017, “was the reward for the hard work of my entire family.”
“We never had any role models to look up to,” she says. The Singh sisters – Divya, Akasnsha and Pratima are her other siblings – were the first to make a major breakthrough in women’s basketball in India.
Prashanti, who works as a Sports Executive with Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, says “basketball is the favorite sport of school and college students but not as a career. It is important to engage with players and nurture their talent. Due to less exposure, there is less participation.”
She highlights the root problem in women’s basketball, and why many don’t pursue it as a career. “There is no basic financial security for women’s basketball while the men’s team is offered jobs with railways, customs, banks and defence services.”
The sisters come from a non-sports background – her father is an IIT Kharagpur graduate and mother a qualified teacher, who sacrificed her job for her children. It is uncommon that an entire family excelled at the same sport but Prashanti says, “There wasn’t much to do in Varanasi, hence we all ended up playing because one sibling played.”
She attributes their success to their mother and adds, “she was the backbone and encouraged us to play. She saved money to send us to tournaments and buy shoes for us.”
The sisters were coached by Amarjeet Singh at a nearby basketball court in UP College, and had to face the disdain of people around the family.
Prashanti reminiscences, “When I started playing basketball, it wasn’t with the intention to build it into a career.” She played her first tournament in 1997, an under-13 event for girls. At the Goa nationals in 2002, she was offered admission to various institutions such as St. Stephen’s College and Jesus and Mary College in Delhi. She went on to join the first MTNL women’s basketball team later in the same year at the age of 18.
“It’s all about opportunity, I got the chance to showcase my talent and then succeed.”
In order to increase participation in the sport, women should have more opportunities, she says. Prashanti proposes that there should a whole season of games to showcase talent and not just a 10-day championship. “We can’t blame the government, sports associations should look to expand the platform to encourage players.”
Prashanti feels that basketball could be the next big sport in India if promoted in the right way. “In India, there is no popular women’s team sport; basketball could fill that space with the right growth.”
(The writers are interns with The Indian Express)
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