What do Indians think about women in sport?

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Indian Muslim international karate champion, Syeda Falak (R), shows self-defence techniques to a student at the Telangana Minorities Residential Girls School in Hyderabad on June 17, 2019.Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Safety was one of the issues raised by people who thought sports were not suitable for women

Are women as good as men at sport? A large number who participated in a BBC survey in India say yes.

The research about attitudes towards women in sports also found a majority speaking in favour of equal pay for female athletes.

However, 42% of the respondents felt that women's sports were not as "entertaining" as men's.

There were also negative perceptions about sportswomen relating to their appearance and childbearing ability.

The BBC research, which was carried out across 14 states with 10,181 respondents, also presented findings on issues such as the importance of sports to both men and women, which Indian states played more sports, and which athletes were best known in the country.

Here are some of the main findings:

A country that doesn't play.

The research showed that as many as 64% of Indian adults did not participate in any kind of sport or physical activity.

This figure was even worse when broken down by gender - nearly one and a half times more men (42%) said they played sport than women (29%).

However, even this participation has an age skew with sports being played more by 15-24-year-old males than any other age and gender grouping.

There is also a big discrepancy among different Indian states.

The top two states where participation in sports is the highest are the southern state of Tamil Nadu (54%) and the western state of Maharashtra (53%).

In the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, just 15% of the population participate in sports.

When people were asked to name an Indian sportsperson off the top of their heads, the most popular was unsurprisingly cricketer Sachin Tendulkar - even though he has retired from the game.

What was surprising however, was that 30% of those surveyed could not name even one sportsman.

This number was even worse when it came to women - 50% of those the BBC spoke to could not name even one sportswoman.

However, 18% named Sania Mirza - an international tennis star who has won a number of grand slam doubles titles.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Sachin Tendulkar is still India's most popular sportsperson

PT Usha, who dominated Indian track and field in the 1970s and 1980s was still top of mind for some Indians, coming just one percentage point behind current badminton stars PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal.

The results differed slightly when people were asked to pick an athlete off a list of both men and women.

Then as many as 83% showed some recognition of athletes, though this was largely skewed in favour of men.

Attitudes towards sportswomen

Geeta Pandey, BBC News, Delhi

When Indian boys play cricket, football, volleyball, run and cycle, Indian girls do not have such a wide range of choices when it comes to sports.

It seems this is dictated, at least in part, by the wider sexism and gender biases that exist in India.

Otherwise, what could explain the fact that a third of those surveyed picked up one or more sports they believed were unsuitable for women?

The list included wrestling, boxing, kabaddi and weightlifting.

The research showed that activities regarded as being "least unsuitable" for women included athletics and indoor games.

Indian women, however, seem to be made of much sterner stuff - breaking gender stereotypes to rule the global arena when it comes to "unsuitable sports" like wrestling, boxing, kabaddi and weightlifting.

They have done India proud by winning many international titles including in the Olympics, Commonwealth and Asian games.

BBC Sportswomen of the Year nominees