In what was a dominating performance by the Indian women's kabaddi team during the South Asian Games back in December last year, 24-year-old Sonali Shingate fulfilled her ambition of claiming a gold medal for her country. It was a matter of pride for her family as well, after she discovered kabaddi as a profession that helped to overcome her financial crisis back then.
Born in a middle-class family hailing from Maharashtra, Sonali started playing kabaddi after completing her high school education. She began training at the Shivshakti Mahila Sangh and learned some new kabaddi skills under the guidance of her coach Rajesh Padave.
In 2014, Sonali received the opportunity to represent Maharashtra's junior team, where the team lost to Haryana in the quarterfinal. Yet, following her remarkable performances, she was handed the captaincy duties in the Junior National Kabaddi Championship. She led the team to the summit clash, where they finished runners-up.
After switching to the Indian Railways, Sonali Shingate has been their go-to raider for the past three years, having won two golds and a silver medal for the side in the Senior National Kabaddi Championship. She has been an inspiration for young girls to enhance their interest and take up the sport with sheer enthusiasm.
Sportskeeda spoke to Sonali Shingate in an exclusive chat with regards to winning the gold medal for her country, her journey of representing India, and the focus points that she thinks will help the rise of women's kabaddi.
Q. You were part of the Indian team that clinched a silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games. With experience from that tournament, how did you motivate yourself to help the side clinch gold at the South Asian Games 2019?
I had never thought of representing India one day. Although I was in the selection camp of Asian Kabaddi Championship back in 2017, I couldn't get the opportunity to play for India. Since then, I was determined to represent the nation and claim gold for my country.
After months of hard work, I finally earned my spot in the Indian Kabaddi team at the Asian Games. We lost the final against Iran there, which was a massive setback for all of us. I was extremely disappointed and frustrated with the result. However, my brother helped me a lot in motivating me to do well for my next outing, which eventually helped me focus upon performing well at the South Asian Games.
Q. The Indian women's kabaddi team remained unbeaten in the South Asian Games and went on to claim gold with sheer dominance. Did you expect any competition in the tournament?
With the Asian Games loss in mind, the idea was to do well right from the start. We had a strategy in our minds that we planned to execute in the final this year, but the all-round performance from our team ensured that we won by a huge margin.
Q. How has your journey been as a women's kabaddi player? Has it been difficult to reach the level you are at today?
Although we had a lot of financial crisis back then, my parents have supported me through the hard times. My father, who was a security guard and my mother have always backed me. Kabaddi is a game where you don't require many accessories to play the sport. I wanted to find myself a job in the police department, and so I started focusing on my fitness and began to play kabaddi.
In 2014, I was training hard to find myself a job in the police department. However, my club coach advised me to join the Indian Railways as he saw potential in me. After claiming a silver medal the next year with the Maharashtra state team, I joined Railways and got financial support there. What also helped me was that I got to play along with the likes of Tejeswini Bai and Mamatha Poojary.
Q. What steps do you think should be taken to promote women's kabaddi and rise the popularity of the division so that it comes in parallel to the fame of the men's division?
There should be a tournament like the Pro Kabaddi League for the women as well. The male players have achieved stardom and have also landed a decent job after making a name for themselves in the PKL. The boards such as Railways, Services, and Banks offer them a reputed job. However, women find themselves a position in the Railways department only.
Q. What would you love to achieve next in the upcoming years through the sport?
I want to continue representing India on international platforms and lead my nation towards the gold medal on every occasion. I aim to uplift the standard of women's kabaddi to the point where it gets acknowledged and appreciated by the kabaddi fans with sheer enthusiasm.