The Phogat Sisters and the Wrestling Girls of India
The growth of women’s wrestling since the Olympics has been astronomical. In 2004, twenty countries sent women to wrestle at the Athens Games. That number jumped to 42 countries for the London Games in 2012. With the increase in weight-classes from four to six for the Rio Games in 2016, even more opportunities have been created for women in wrestling.
One of the reasons there has been such an upswing in wrestling’s popularity in India (a country of over a billion people) is the success of Geeta Phogat. Geeta, a female wrestler at 55kg, has earned medals in both the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships.
For the Geeta, wrestling is also a family affair — her father Mahavir Singh Phogat has trained Geeta and her sisters Babita and Ritu. Babita has already seen success, earning a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
According to the Times of India, the Phogats have enjoyed an outsized impact on the growth of women’s wrestling in India:
The first woman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics [from India], Geeta Phogat, 24, is quietly leading a revolution in her remote village Balalli in Haryana which has a skewed sex ratio of just 873 women for every 1000 men.
At 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Geeta won gold, while her sister Babita clinched silver as the elder of the duo has not looked back, becoming the first woman wrestler [ from India] to compete in Olympics at London 2012.
“Maine apne logon ki soch badali hai (I have changed the way people think of women wrestling),” Geeta said.
“In our village women are left to clean the house and milk the cattle so when I first entered the ring, I had to hear the criticism of people… Even my grandmother would tell me that girls should not wrestle, it’s a man’s game,” she added.
In India, successful male and female wrestlers are rewarded with jobs with jobs inside their community, often with the railroad and police force. Things are no different for Phogat “Haryana promotes the sports persons by bestowing honorary police ranks on achieving medal at international stage as Geeta is now a Sub-Inspector.”
Her father is a hard taskmaster and it’s difficult to fool him, Geeta said, giving credit the Senior Phogat.
Geeta Phogat at the 2012 Woorld Championships against multiple world & Olympic champion Saori Yoshida: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqiRfhR_0EI
Geeta Phogat earning the bronze at the 2012 World Championships vs. Nataliya Synyshyn from Ukraine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_fpWE0mBWg