Sports for women in India are on an unrelenting rise, and the Tokyo Olympics further underscored the prowess and potential for female athletes in the country. While the development of female athletes is being accorded stronger focus than ever, there are also organizations championing the cause of further increasing the number of female professionals working in the sports industry.
One such organization, Women in Sport India (WISI), is at the very forefront of this mission.
Sportskeeda caught up with Vaidehi Vaidya, founder and MD of WISI, to better understand their objectives, current work, and their future plans.
The inception and journey of Women in Sport India (WISI)
Vaidehi started WISI in 2015 as an online platform to facilitate connections between women working in sports. Fast forward to the present day and WISI is a registered company dedicatedly working towards equal female representation in sports. Looking back at the evolution of WISI over the years, Vaidehi said:
“Since starting WISI in 2015, our Facebook page interactions grew at a steady pace. Facebook themselves invited us for an event. We subsequently started getting media attention; I started getting invitations to be a speaker on forums for women in sport; and over time, it hit me that WISI, which I had started for myself, now seemed like a platform that could help so many other women in the industry or aspiring to be in the industry.”
Vaidehi further added:
“That realization pushed me to register WISI as a company in 2020, and since then, we have focused on two key areas – mentoring and networking. We have our own programmes to upskill women and make them industry-ready. We also have our own digital community platform, WISI-Tribe, wherein members can connect with mentors, access relevant resources and even find job opportunities. We believe a strong community of skilled women in sports will propel the field to new heights.”
WISI has, in recent times, conducted a host of masterclasses and events to bring industry leaders to their platform to share expertise and experience. As a staunch believer in the power of mentoring, Vaidehi, through WISI, is trying to develop a robust mentoring ecosystem. Vaidehi explained:
“We perceive mentoring very differently to sports education – we are looking for our mentors to pass on their learnings gathered through years of experience on to our members. Mentors should act as guides – more than giving answers, they should help our members develop a thought process which helps them find answers on their own. We believe that would result in long-term, sustainable impact and would also facilitate aspirants from any educational background to break into sports.”
The model adopted by WISI has proven successful and is gaining a lot of traction. Vaidehi wants to strengthen the existing platform by keeping the community and mentoring at the core of their activities. Speaking about her future plans, Vaidehi said:
“Over the next five years, the plan is to strengthen the existing model and make this community larger. But what I do want to incorporate is an international angle to our work, because I feel there’s a lot of knowledge internationally that we could leverage to support women in India. And since knowledge knows no boundary, gender, or race, I believe [that] through our platform, we can really integrate that into our activities.”
The future of women in sports
Vaidehi, through her education, and her experience of working with international partners, has had exposure to several geographies. However, when it comes to supporting female aspirants in sports in India, she believes in finding indigenous solutions to indigenous problems. She said:
“While there are definitely examples to appreciate and learn from internationally, I believe that due to the nature of opportunities and challenges India presents as the largest democracy with such a huge population, we need to develop internal competency and internal perspective to find long-term solutions. So, rather than copying any other country, it is important for us to dive deeper into understanding our own challenges better, which will eventually lead to finding the right solutions.”
Vaidehi has already seen a positive shift towards a brighter future since she started WISI in 2015. Elaborating on her observations, Vaidehi said:
“When I was younger, there was just one team in Pune which had a women’s football team. Today, there are 24 odd women’s teams and there are leagues for them to compete in. I am sure there was a lot of effort in the right direction by the right people, which has resulted in such a sharp increase in women’s participation.”
Vaidehi also believes the continuing trend of female athletes excelling at international events has not only encouraged more females to play, but also to come and work in sports to help more such athletes reach the pinnacle.
An area where Vaidehi feels there is a lot of room for improvement, and an area where WISI could also facilitate, is in the number of women working in a technical capacity, especially coaches. Vaidehi said:
“It is important to develop a larger pool of female coaches. I would especially urge international athletes to take up elite coaching as a profession because they can help a lot of female athletes. At the grassroots level, again, it is imperative that we have more female coaches. I think female coaches are naturally more empathetic, and even parents could feel safer if children are coached by females at a younger age.”
Currently, several female professionals are taking the sports industry by storm, not just as leaders in private organizations but also in general administration. Speaking about the long-term impact WISI can have on the Indian sports ecosystem, Vaidehi said:
“I am a firm believer in action over words, and at WISI, are trying to upskill our members so that they can go out into the industry and prove that they can meet or exceed expectations. And we are hoping that, over time, we will be able to provide a pool of candidates for all kinds of sports organizations.”
Vaidehi further added:
“Through WISI-Tribe, that’s our goal – we are helping these fantastic women show the world how fantastic they are! We have started a job board and a recommendation platform so that our skilled members can find the right opportunities.”
Vaidehi hopes that in the future, WISI can work with federations to help them identify the right candidates.
While plenty of effort is already being made to increase the number of women working in sports, Vaidehi's efforts are a rallying cry for aspirants to focus on upskilling and be bold in their approach in applying for opportunities. As long as there are women harboring dreams, there will be a need for organizations like WISI to help them along the way.