Redefining Stereotypes: Girl’s Empowerment Through Sports

Redefining Stereotypes: Girl’s Empowerment Through Sports

In a society where traditional gender roles often confine women to certain domains, sports stand as a prime example. Despite prevailing notions that sports are primarily for men, there are countless female athletes breaking through these barriers. Through our Beyond the Label project, we had the honor of conversing with one such remarkable athlete, A.M Chinthani VishmikaBandara in the University of Jaffna currently playing for Colombo Football Club. Her story echoes the journeys of women defying societal norms in sports. 

1) How have you initiated your journey in the field of football professionally and as a woman what motivated you to pursue it professionally? 

I started playing football at 8 years old, back in grade 3. It all began when I joined the school team with my class teacher, who led the football team. Throughout my school years, I played at the school level. In 2021, I played nationally with the under-19 team. After school, we were chosen for the district team based on our skills. Unlike Nepal and India, where women’s football thrives, Sri Lanka has limited clubs for female football players. To continue playing, I joined the Colombo Football Club. It’s essential to be part of a club or a force to progress beyond the school level, which is why I decided to join it to continue my football career professionally in the future.  

2) When you chose football as a sport, what kind of support did you receive from your family? 

When I first chose football, my family had no objections. My father, especially, encouraged me as he’s always wanted me to do a sport. However, as I grew older balancing classes and matches became challenging as missing classes during match seasons worried my parents about my studies. They asked me to stop playing during my OL exams, fearing it would affect my education. But I never wanted to quit playing.  Additionally, although my mother was concerned about my studies, she’s never pressured me to quit and up to this day, my father supports me immensely. I’m grateful for their unwavering support in pursuing my passion. 

3) As a female football player, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? 

As a female football player, I haven’t faced many challenges. Luckily, I haven’t had health concerns related to it. While women encounter various societal issues, it varies for each person. Society frowns upon females playing football, considering it unconventional. For example, some relatives have discouraged me, saying football isn’t for girls. However, we can’t please everyone. Ultimately, if you believe it’s right, it’s your choice to continue the sport. 

4) How has being a woman influenced your experience in sports in terms of opportunities, support and recognition? 

Recognition for women’s football is more prominent worldwide, though it’s lacking in Sri Lanka compared to countries like India and Nepal. Here, men’s football enjoys greater recognition. Football has shaped my life differently from other girls. Being involved in this sport exposes me to various situations, making it easier to tackle problems and make decisions. Football has been a tremendous support for me, helping me face challenges head-on with strength and resilience. 

5) How do you balance academic and athletic commitments? 

After school level football, many lose interest unless they’re truly passionate. But for those who continue into university, there’s recognition. Sport becomes a qualification in the job market especially for women as doing sports finds more opportunities. Balancing academics and sports demand dedication. Yes, sports may affect studies, but it’s about the effort we put in. Confidence is the key and sports help with that. Education matters for girls, so we must balance both as self-reliance is crucial. Being active in sports boosts productivity and with proper management, we can balance both effectively. 

6) Have you encountered gender inequality in your sports career, and if so, how have you addressed it? 

Gender inequality hasn’t been a big issue for me since I attended an all-girls school. Our coach trained us and other boy’s schools as well, so we practiced together during vacations. Despite being girls, we had to be strong on the field, fighting like men. Off the field, we could still be ourselves. Even during games, we had to compete fiercely. Learning to adapt to the field made handling gender differences easier. 

7) As a female athlete and student do you have a role model? What values did you learn from them? 

While I have a role model, I don’t follow them closely because our efforts differ. Role models don’t have to be identical as uniqueness is important. My aspiration is to be a role model for someone else, just as I have one. 

8) What advice would you like to give to young females who aspire to do football or a male-dominated sport? 

In sports, male domination is a societal notion not a reality. We should have the freedom to choose any sport we like. For me, football was a personal choice and perceptions vary among people. As long as our actions don’t harm others and make us happy, we should pursue them. In sports, there’s no rule that only men can excel, girls have equal potential as many girls thrive in sports, proving those capabilities. We should believe in ourselves and our strength to achieve greatness in any field we choose. 

Gender prejudice has long persisted in the sports industry, keeping women off the field. However, these stereotypes are being shattered as A.M Chinthani Vishmika Bandara continues to defy expectations. We’ve delved into this amazing athlete’s story through our Beyond the Labelsproject, showcasing her resilience and determination. Her story questions social norms and demonstrates that a person’s gender should never be a barrier to their potential. We are reminded that great success in life and athletics is fueled by passion, dedication and unflinching belief regardless of a person’s gender.  

Interviewed by Rtr. Senali Senanayake

Written by Rtr. Dyaana Senarathna

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