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2 of India’s best sportswomen on what it takes to be a game changer

Mithali Raj and Jwala Gutta share their journeys

By ELLE team  April 19th, 2018

Having a career in sports in India demands perseverance, resilience and guts, but in the end, it’s sheer talent that separates the wheat from the chaff. ELLE spoke to two such talented women, Mithali Raj, captain of the women’s cricket team, and badminton player Jwala Gutta, two of India’s best sportswomen who’ve been recognised by Chandon’s The Party Starter 2.0 campaign as being game changers in their fields.

ELLE: What’s it like being a woman in a ‘gentleman’s game’?

Mithali Raj (MR): “It was very difficult initially to create a mark in a sport which is predominantly a male sport, but I think the end result is good now. Today, when people talk about the sport, it’s about both men and women playing cricket.”

ELLE: How did you start playing badminton?

Jwala Gutta (JG): “My father encouraged me to play sports and always wanted me to be a sportsperson, irrespective of which one I chose. As a kid, I started off playing tennis and later shifted to badminton because of my mother.”

Maithali Raj2
Mithali Raj

ELLE: Were there moments when either of you felt like giving up?

MR: “I had this thought when I wasn’t at the best of my game, not scoring runs for the team. However, my mother came to my rescue and motivated me to take this up as a challenge, fix my game and keep going.”

JG: “There have been times when I told myself, “I don’t want to play this game anymore.” There was this phase, when I was at top of the game but due to the politics — which every profession and sport goes through — I actually switched back to tennis for a month. But it was a temporary phase as I never wanted to quit playing badminton.”

ELLE: Your biggest role models?

MR: “My mother. I have always looked up to her for all the sacrifices she has made to make me a cricketer and the way she has managed everything — right from home to education to cricket. She has been an epitome of courage and strength.”

JG: “For me, it would be my mother as well — she will always been my inspiration. She is from China and has successfully imbibed the diverse Indian culture and encouraged her daughters to be achievers. I even consider my contemporaries and seniors like Vijay Raghavan and Manoj Kumar as my role models. I also look up to legendary sports personalities like P.T Usha, Steffi Graff, Roger Federer and Kapil Dev.”

ELLE: If you weren’t into sports, what would you be doing?

MR: “I am a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and would have performed at a lot of shows by now.”

JG: “Definitely playing another sport, maybe tennis.”

Jwala Gutta2
Jwala Gutta

ELLE: How does it feel to be a game changer?

MR: “Cricket in India has always been regarded as a sport restricted to men and I am happy to see this perception change after our recent win. The women’s team is now acknowledged and has definitely inspired a lot of young girls to pick up this sport.”

JG: “It is an honour to play for the country at the international level and be regarded as a doubles specialist in badminton. I hope India continues to support doubles player and our players get recognition internationally as well.”

ELLE: How does it feel to be part of The Party Starter Stories by Chandon?

MR: “Being paired with Mithali got me a lot more excited as I got to show off my skills over fun games while we chatted on various topics from our challenges to moments of triumphs with the ultimate Partystarter.”

JG: “When Chandon shared their concept of bringing two women athletes together for a casual conversation, I immediately agreed as we rarely get to enjoy such moments together.”

Watch: This is what Mithali and Jwala get up to in their free time