Vaidehi Vaidya Championing Indian Women’s Sport

Managing Director and Founder of Women in Sport India (WISI), Vaidehi Vaidya, is passionately championing the growth of women’s sport in her country and is planning to make her online initiative an international organization.

In 2015, WISI became India’s first online formal sports body created to support women in sport on all levels.

Vaidya’s vision is to create a robust approach to exchange information and knowledge about making a career in sports, on and off field.

An engineer turned football enthusiast, Vaidya is extremely passionate about sports, women and entrepreneurship.

Her business acumen in sports management was polished during her MBA in Football Industries from the University of Liverpool.

Her research on Women’s Football in India with UEFA made her think of revolutionizing the sports development environment in India.

Vaidehi has been a football development consultant with the Asian Football Development Project, handling over 11 different youth and women’s football development projects spread across Asia.

She is also a member of the first official FIFA Fan Forum.

Speaking with gsport, Vaidya reveals the challenges of running a women’s sport initiative and aspirations for 2021.

Vaidehi, it is great to talk to you on gsport. How are you negotiating this year that has been so hard hit by Covid-19?

Honestly, I choose to look at every situation positively where we all know that world has been hit hard by this pandemic, we also must survive and thrive. Yes, the year hasn’t been easy, and my company registration probably was ill timed, but one positive definitely came out of it – everyone was available! I could connect with countless amazing people. I tried to make the most of it. As Women in Sport, India is just a baby it was important for me to make those connections. The pause also gave me the time that I needed to draw out plans for WISI.

How has the pandemic impacted your work and what are you doing differently?

My company and work is community-based. Much of it does not depend on sports events. Hence, I could still continue building my initiatives. This is a great time to be in women’s sports in India. Sporting bodies and government is indeed thinking about women’s sports seriously and society’s outlook towards it has changed drastically. It will of course take time for me to convert a name into a brand, but I am working towards it.

“I am working towards building an ecosystem and bridging the gap between knowledge availability and expertise availability.” – Managing Director and Founder of Women in Sport India, Vaidehi Vaidya

I believe in walking the walk, talking the talk has been done by many. Hence, I am working towards building an ecosystem and bridging the gap between knowledge availability and expertise availability. It is missing right now. The basic information sharing is where we need to start. Women in Sport India is not a bulletin board where we post women’s sports news. We are a platform which has started taking steps towards providing important connections to the aspiring women in sports.

Where does your passion for sport come from?

I am a player. I have always been. I played Taek Wan Do for 7 years and then football. And then, dabbled in swimming, cricket, etc. The passion comes from there.

When did you decide to launch Women in Sport India and what was your aim in launching this initiative?

WISI started back in 2015. It was a way for me to connect with likeminded women working in sports. But the idea to make it a company started last year. Since I stated it, over the years I have been receiving great response to it and a bit of media attention, too! Last year I realized that I needed to take it further than the online forum that it was before. So, I took the decision of registering it as a company. Our vision is to create a robust approach to exchange information and knowledge about making a career in sports, on and off field. Women in Sport India also plans to create an ecosystem for women in sport to find the required help and grow together in various sports faculties.

What have been some of the highlights so far?

If you are asking about awards, I haven’t gotten any 😊. But some of the highlights of my life would be firstly, my internship with UEFA, which gave me the opportunity to travel across India collecting information on women’s football to produce first report on it. Secondly, registering WISI as a company. It was apparently small decision, but it made me more responsible as a person. Because I am now an owner of something, and I have the responsibility to make sure it survives.

WISI recently launched a mentorship program. Tell us more about it.

There are experts with the tremendous knowledge about sports and then there are enthusiastic women who want that knowledge. But there is no one connecting these two dots. The WISI Mentoring programs does exactly that.

“It gives them an idea of the different options available in sports and a way forward in each option. But it also shows them the reality of sports.” – Vaidya speaks on the launch of WISI’s mentorship programme.

It brings the sports knowledge available to the women who need it. Simple! It gives them an idea of the different options available in sports and a way forward in each option. But it also shows them the reality of sports. We often romanticize how working in the sports would be, but the reality is much harsher. It is important to know what you are getting into.

What is the most challenging thing about running a women’s sport initiative?

Reaching relevant women. Over the last few months, I have realized that there are plenty of women who want to get into sports, but they don’t know that there is someone they can reach out to. Or, you don’t know how to reach out to them. India is a big country, and I am only one person. So, reaching these women in sports is a tough job.

Cricket is huge in India so how does women’s sport hold up in this environment?

Other than cricket all the other sports in India have been dominated by women. Badminton, wrestling, boxing, hockey, take any sport and the first name you can think about is a woman. Women’s cricket has also started getting the traction it deserves. More importantly, slowly women’s sports is catching eyeballs, which is a good sign. So, I think women’s sports has been holding well.

What is India doing right in terms of promoting women’s sport?

Athletes’ performance is what is promoting women’s sports in India at the moment. But the governing bodies need to think about marketing women’s sports seriously. Many times, we think of marketing as secondary thing. First is always development and medals, but we need to realise that both go hand in hand. Marketing can make women’s sports more attractive to the young girls and they would want to participate in it. That way you create a larger pool of players and then create more medals. Long story short. But at this point there haven’t been many attempts at promoting women’s sports as whole. Individual players? Yes, the support is available. But women’s sport goes beyond that.

What are your thoughts on the state of women’s sport globally and what have you learnt from some of your counterparts around the world that has helped you on your journey?

I think that even globally the state of women’s sports is still not that great and it is often treated secondary. But what I have learnt, and what India lacks now is the structure/organized way of conducting women’s sports.

Every federation wants to do something but unless you put a system in place you won’t see the progress. Much of the time and effort is spent is planning the same things every year, which could easily be standardized for e.g. tournament/event timetable changes every year, which can easily be fixed to specific timetable.

What do you think of gsport and the work it does to promote women’s sport globally?

I think gsport is doing a phenomenal job at promoting women. Kass herself is an inspiration and WISI being a baby at the moment can learn a lot for gsport. Hopefully we can have joint India- South Africa awards function sometime soon in the near future.

Who are the sportswomen who inspire you?

Mary Kom. I think she is a great example of a woman holding her own. She is a mother of 4 and she never ceases to amaze me. But in reality, every woman who choses to make her career in sports, athlete or not, is an inspiration to me because I know the struggles that she has to go through.

What is your advice to women in sport who are struggling to find their groove in the industry?

Take your time. Clarity is the most important thing for career growth, but it is not a eureka moment, it comes in time. So, be patient and expose yourself to new experiences even if you feel it is not your inclination. Make connections when you don’t need them, that’s the best time to connect with people. And, Nike got it right – just do it. Whatever it is you want to do.

Who is the one Indian women’s sport star you believe we should be keeping our eye on?

There are many. Shefali Verma (cricket), PV Sindhu (Badminton), Manasi Joshi (para badminton), Hima Das (athletics).

What is the one thing you are good at that nobody really asks you about?

What other things I am good at? I sing, paint, collect LPs, I love to travel solo; done it many times and I am foodie. I don’t think I ever speak about these things. So, thanks for the question.

2020 has been hard due to Covid-19. What are your hopes and dreams for 2021?

Just continue to do what I am doing and grow the organisations. The plans won’t change much for me.

What is your greatest ambition?

Make WISI an international organization. That is a milestone that I am planning for.

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Launched in 2006, gsport exists to enhance the commercial prospects of our women athletes, and other women in sport, by telling the inspiring story of SA women in sport. Thank you for your contribution!

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