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The gender leap: India sent its first woman athlete to the Olympics in 1924

AJ Vinayak | Updated on August 06, 2021

Fresh ground: Indian started sending sportswomen to the Olympics in 1924   -  PTI/Gurinder Osan

While India began sending women athletes to the Olympics fairly early, a few countries started doing so as late as 2000

India’s women power has been on full display at the Tokyo Olympics and has since become a talking point. When compared with other countries, India has been pretty progressive about sending women athletes to the Games. Did you know that the first Indian sportswoman to participate in the Olympics was as far back as in 1924?

By contrast it may be surprising to learn that a few countries started sending women participants to the Summer Olympics only after 2000.

Nora Polley was the first woman to represent India in tennis in the 1924 Paris Olympics. According to Olympedia, Polley was born in Budaun, Uttar Pradesh in 1894. However, by 1901, she was living in Scotland and was educated at Hillcote Boarding School in 1911. She married Sydney Trepess Polley, a military officer in the Indian Army, who became a major in 1918. She played at Cannes early in 1924, and then competed in the 1924 Olympics.

 

The tennis events of the Paris Olympics were conducted between July 13 and 20, and 31 contestants from 14 countries, including India, participated in it.

Polley, along with Sydney Jacob of India, also contested in the mixed doubles event of the 1924 Olympics.

Among the neighbouring countries, Bhutan was quick to send women contestants to Olympics — since 1984, but Pakistan delayed sending women participants to Olympics till 1996. Karma Chhoden, Sonam Chuki and Rinzi Lham represented Bhutan in the archery event of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Neighbouring countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal started sending women contestants to Olympics from 1988. Dipika Chanmugam of Sri Lanka in swimming, Parvati Thapa of Nepal in shooting, and Mar Mar Min of Myanmar in athletics were the first women to represent their countries in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Bangladesh had sent its first woman participant to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Shahana Parveen represented the country in shooting in the 1992 Olympics.

Comparatively, it took longer for Pakistani women to participate in the Olympics. Shabana Akthar (athletics) was the first woman to represent Pakistan — at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. She was one among the 48 participants from 35 countries who took part in the women’s long jump event.

Countries such as Britain, Italy, US, France, Switzerland and Bohemia have been sending women contestants to the Olympics since 1900. However, some countries took over a century after that to send women participants to the Olympics. Countries such as Bahrain, Timor Leste, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Palestine, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia, Yemen and Djibouti sent their first woman representative in 2000.

While Montenegro, Botswana, Kirbati, Kuwait and Afghanistan sent them to the 2004 edition of the Olympics, countries such as British Virgin Islands, UAE, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and Oman sent them to the 2008 edition.

Saudi Arabia was the last one to send its first woman representative to the Olympics — London Olympics in 2012.

Other Olympics trivia:

Old is gold in Olympics too

Meet the youngest athletes at sport’s biggest stage

Published on August 06, 2021

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