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It’s a rare sight to witness an Indian girl playing football in a field with a bunch of boys. When this scenario was first visualised in the movie, ” Bend it Like Beckham”, one could conclude that Indian parents rather see their daughters making “Rotis” than on the field trying to score a goal. Proving all notions wrong, Tanvie Hans, is one inspiring athlete who plays for the British football team and we couldn’t resist but ask her some questions, the answers to which our audience would love to know.
The Indian society is not very supportive of women choosing football as a career. For a girl to take up a sport as not only a passion, but a profession eventually, is not the norm in the Indian society. Our traditional thinking states that a girl’s duties are only towards her family and the well-keep of her home. This is honestly very unfortunate because a lot of girls have the innate potential, but are not able to take it forward because they feel obligated to take up a desk job to help support the family (i.e. if they’re allowed to have a job) and get married at a young age, and we lose out a lot of talent as a result of it.
Tanvie says, ” As an off-set of this, our women’s teams don’t get to progress much, and this is why we don’t have enough opportunities in India as well for female athletes. This is of course slowly changing, and I believe it all starts from the support system provided by the girls family”. Female athletes like Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Bembem Devi have made a name for themselves despite all odds.
Can you imagine then, how many more names we’d have and how we could take the sports world by storm if our society actually supported girls?
Tanvie feels that her biggest struggle was lack of opportunities, lack of tournaments and as a result of that, a lack of ‘real match experience’ as a female player. Its sad to know that including the school tournaments, college tournaments, university tournaments and national level tournaments, she would be allowed to play competitive football for a period of only 2 months in a year, which according to her was not enough. To counter this, She played with boys at an academy near her home and she practiced day and night to be where she wanted to be. Tanvie says, “Though this never earned me ‘real match experience’ especially with girls, it kept me in good form and in touch with the game. In addition to this, the surfaces and facilities that we have are very very poor”.
Another one of Tanvie’ s biggest struggles has been her passport. As she has a British passport, she cannot play for India, though she was called for U-19 India camp in 2008. Ever since then she has been waiting for the law to change, or at least for a proper women’s league to start in India, but neither of the two has happened as yet. This is the reason why she decided to come to England in the year 2013 to try her luck. She has been training here for a while now and she continues to grow as a player.
While talking about her support, she says, “I’ve been very fortunate to have the family that I do (speaking exclusively about my immediate family). They never stopped me from playing football all through school and college (with girls and boys) for which I often had to travel as well. And sometimes in very poor conditions”. But I guess you don’t expect your Indian daughter to then sit you down at the age of 22 and say ‘I want to go and play in London.’ But they were unexpectedly gracious”.
It’s an interesting fact that Tanvie’s dad was a state level Tennis player himself, for Punjab, so he could always connect to her level of passion about football. When she asked her parents why they were so readily acceptable of her decision to go to London to play, they answered by saying that they see the hard work she has put in. It’s a known fact that a career in football is not the wisest decision when it comes to making money . To this, Tanvie says that, “Football even at this level for women does not provide any income, so to a very large extent my family has supported me financially as well. I do of course try to help where I can by getting a part-time job. But more than financial support, their moral support has been unbelievable. And I am so grateful”.
We asked her if she has ever been labeled as a “tomboy” due to the nature of the sport. To this, she says, “I remember boys in my class would tease other boys who had thin legs, saying I had bigger calf muscles than them. And it honestly never bothered me because it was an insult to the boy, but a compliment for me!”. She did have to argue a lot of the times with her family to wear baggy shorts and t-shirts like the boys, and they would finally succumb to it.
The Indian society thinks that being ‘less feminine’ means you would be less presentable, less attractive and boys may not like you but Tanvie strongly disagrees with this notion. She truly believes that being exactly who you are is the most attractive quality a person can possess, and a lot of boys prefer sporty girls.
Tanvie says, “More people want to get to know me BECAUSE I am more likely to have a pair of football boots in my bag, than lipstick and blush (which I in fact still don’t own)”.
There is an interesting story attached to Tanvie’s picture on the poster of the “Bend it like Beckham” musical. She was only 12 years old when the movie was released and this movie inspired her to play more seriously and achieve something substantial in the field of football. Tanvie also mentions an interesting anecdote from the past when her grandmother met Gurinder Chadha at an event years ago and she mentioned her granddaughter being a big fan of the movie. To this, Gurinder chadda was kind enough to write a note for her. Tanvie hung that note on my room wall when she moved to London in 2013, before she gave her trials.
After an year, Gurinder got in touch with Tanvie through a common relation. She liked her story-about an Indian girl (also Punjabi like Jess) who came all the way from India to play football and was then playing for a well known club as Tottenham (now I am with Fulham Ladies). So, she thought it fitting to have her on the poster, and I of course, Tanvie was super thrilled. She says, “In a way, it did feel like this story came full circle-the movie that inspired me at the age of 12 (sitting in India), I am then the poster girl for 12 years on, in London”.
Tanvie also got to train the actresses and audition them in football. Her face was there on all posters in the tube stations and on buses which made her parents feel proud of her. Talking about an incident which is close to her heart, she says, “When my family were in London, they saw the musical. I especially remember, they had just returned from the musical, and we were at a restaurant, talking proudly about the whole experience with an uncle and aunt, and just then a bus rolled up near our window with the “Bend it Like Beckham” musical poster and me on it. And I’ll never forget, dad looked at me at that moment, and he had tears in his eyes”.
Sports as a career is discouraged for girls, but it doesn’t mean it’s not an option. It is a physically demanding career, and one with a limited lifespan, but also one of the most rewarding careers. You can make history and be remembered eternally. We asked Tanvie if she ever felt discouraged, to this she said, “Believe me, the same people who one day discouraged you-be it family or just society will one day celebrate you! What you should be cautious of is that failures and successes is part of an athlete’s life and should be handled in just that sense”.
We love her spirit and respect her decision to chase her dreams. Tanvie is an Indian athlete who can inspire the millions of women struggling to make a career in sports. She is definitely one of our favourite inspirational young achievers from the field of sports.