India Unfurling at the Commonwealth Games

Being an ardent sports follower, I was glued to the Tour De France that started in Copenhagen, Denmark on the 1st of July and ended at the Champs-Élysées, Paris on the 24th of July 2022, with Jonas Vingegaard winning the men’s title. Taking a little respite from work is a good thing, my prudent mind advised. And I finally succumbed to my inner voice, by turning the television on to watch the Commonwealth Games. Savita Punia was leading the women’s Indian hockey team in the semi-finals against Australia. Despite the pressure, the girls in blue were on fire, putting my work aside I watched young Lalremsiami and Sangeeta Kumari exploit the Australian backline for the second penalty corner, the boss girls gave a tough fight to the Australian opponents. The Aussie girls stormed into the finals by scoring three goals against the Indians and the superwoman Jocelyn Bartram who managed to save the shoot-out. 

India unfurling at the Commonwealth Games

A contingent of 322 members participated in the Commonwealth Games for the 18th time with 72 nations participating in Birmingham and for the first time, women’s cricket was introduced in the games. While scrolling through the short recap videos of the entire game, I knew I was going to spend a good amount of time gloating about the Indian medal tally. I watched the highlights of lawn bowling – a sport I hitherto didn’t know existed. Four women; Lovely Choubey, 42, who led, was a long jumper in her earlier days and shifted to lawn bowl after being encouraged by her coaches, Pinki Singh, 41 a former cricketer and currently a physical education teacher was second, Nayanmoni Saikia, 33 from Assam, was a national heavyweight champion until injuries plagued her went in third displayed quite a panache, finally, the skipper Rupa Rani Tirkey, a former kabbadi player hailing from Ranchi finished the game with fine distinction. The Bharat Mata ki Jai chants gave me frisson as the spectators stood up to the National Anthem when the women bagged the gold. 

The twenty-year-old Achinta Sheuli, born to a low-income family in Bengal worked his way through despite adversities with determination and perseverance bagging gold in Men’s 73 kgs heavy weightlifting. The wrestling contingent performed exceptionally well winning 6 medals. The Para-athlete Bhavina Patel clinched a Gold in table tennis. Saurav Ghosal made history in squash by winning a medal for India, ranking at World 15, he domineered against England’s Willstrop right from the start, it was indeed an emotional moment and I could share his myriad emotions for the perseverance he had put in a sport that was not popular in India would perhaps prompt youth to take up squash.

Satwik and Chirag crushed their opponent through to the quarter-finals in doubles badminton. They displayed fire, poise, and dominance in the game. Their performance took India to the fifth position in the medal tally. The penultimate day promises some adrenal rush with the boxing finals featuring Nitu and Amit Panghal. The Women in Blue have beaten England in their home ground to have a final faceoff with the Aussie women. PV Sindhu heads into the semifinals and The TT duo Sharath and Sathiyan fight for gold in the men’s doubles final. 

Technology as the hope to better sports management

However, the categories in the games that have the maximum events expanding the scope of winning medals are swimming and gymnastics. Sadly India is fledging in both categories while never making it to other categories like rowing, rugby, football, basketball, volleyball, cycling, beach volleyball, and so many others. Technology is the hope for such sports, the meteoric innovations could be the dawn for millions of athletes across the globe that would not just aid in better facilities but also broaden the scope of improvement. Anurag Thakur, The Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports in India recently quoted: ‘We’re changing the sporting ecosystem to make it conducive for our sportspersons’ The marriage of technology and sports has broadened both the scope of play and improvements in training quality. The techno-sports tools of digital mapping, data analytics, machine intelligence, and immersive viewing are even spilling out to better sports management. Alongside the content explosion in various social media platforms has aided in awareness, giving traction to the brand value of a player. The citizens are aiding in better scouting of talents from previously untapped places. Additionally AI teams are now using technology to track an athlete’s training, and identify patterns and/or strengths and weaknesses while preparing for games. 

A new dawn awaits the sports horizon …

It gives me hope that a new dawn awaits the sports horizon. Technology and training would help athletes across the country find a breakthrough in unchartered territory. On day 10 as Nikhat Zareena and PV Sindhu took India to the 4th position after bagging gold for boxing and badminton singles, my heart was beaming with joy, as the Indian flag went up and the national anthem was played. Standing up I sang with pride and patriotism ‘Bharat Bhagya Vidhata’ which precisely means, “the dispenser of the destiny of India!” A week before India celebrates her 75th year of independence the young men and women of her country rise in glory.

Avoid the Zombie Apocalypse with content moderation

A date with my seven-year-old nephew is a mandate every vacation he visits me. This visit too, he had been looking forward to our ‘us time’ and somehow the work and the weather had kept me procrastinating. I think he must have run out of patience when he sat on my lap and demanded to know what I was working on? I replied, “content moderation” not expecting him to understand let alone reply. With a serious tone, he replied, “Yes that is a must.” Now it was my turn to look up and I decided to interview this Gen Alpha, asking him what content moderation is? Without taking a breath, he replied, “content moderation is blocking bad stuff from being seen on videos.” It left me amazed at how simple and crisp his reply was. 

While the internet is an infinite virtual galaxy that has unfathomable possibilities there is both the good and the bad. Just to give you an example, a few months ago a friend who sells her ceramic pottery via an e-commerce platform got blocked due to some objectionable photos and lewd comments that were posted on her site. Like many others, she was unaware of the concept of content moderation. As I explained to her as well, simply put; content moderation is the process of monitoring user-generated content (UGC) with some preset guidelines that scan and remove offensive content thereby ensuring compliance to the platform norms. 

In the last few years, there has been a whopping rise of user-generated content with the availability of easy internet access and smartphones. Naturally, there has also been a rise in content that is insensitive, violent, has abusive language or hate crimes, thus needing diligent moderation. According to the Data Bridge Market Research report, the global content moderation solutions market is set to grow at a CAGR of 10.7% by 2027. Meanwhile, as found by AdWeek, 85% of users are more influenced by UGC as opposed to Professionally generated content (PGC). 

While this emphaises the urgent need for content moderation, it also raises a debate on what exactly is offensive content and what are the correct parameters to identifying such content. 

Any content, be it text, image, video, audio, or in any other form, which depicts violence, nudity, or hate speech can be termed sensitive content. The rules that determine which content is sensitive depend upon a platform’s specific requirements. If a platform wants to promote debate and discussion, its content rules may permit content that would otherwise be turned off and considered unsafe. For reference, Brut Media, a French video publisher sheds light with feature-based short or long-form original videos that primarily focus on unreported news, covering politics, entertainment, social justice and culture. The digital media company targets millennials and Gen Z with “socially conscious” news videos, without the use of algorithms; rather it thrives on sparking conversation on social media with a values-driven approach. On the contrary, Facebook has a stringent content moderation policy that is AI automated and is deployed at an ex-ante stage where a video or photograph is screened at submission.

For a platform or a business where most of the users are young, and content is mostly immediately published, for better user experience, automated content moderation is advocated as it ensures that sensitive content is not exposed to young users. It is no longer a secret that content is a core ingredient of any brand; it portrays the brand ethos and integrity. Brands are now vigilant about what goes out there that defines their values and objectivity. Convoluted content needs smart moderation. Most brands are extending to create a comprehensive and safe ecosystem that promotes self-expression without violating community guidelines, and expressing creativity without advocating harm and malice. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are significantly helping in sieving large volumes of content with negligible human intervention and as my nephew stated, “keeping the bad stuff away”.

My nephew made the writing of this blog on Content Moderation an easier task with his simple innocent words, “bad guys post bad videos, they make everyone hate everyone and start a zombie apocalypse. My mama says don’t watch those videos, else you will turn into a zombie too.” Guess mums are always right, were my last thoughts as I wrapped up the blog and we headed out for our date; Excited to have a serious conversation on the zombie apocalypse and alien attack, of course with a dose of Peppa pig. 

Celebrating the “avatars” of women in sports

शक्तिः दुर्दम्येच्छाशक्त्याः आगच्छति
Strength comes from an indomitable will.
In Hindu mythology Durga means fort and is perceived as an informidable force, she was created by the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and blessed by all the gods with weapons and skills in each of her ten arms. If we were to imagine Durga in one of her avatars as an ordinary girl called Bebe Vio in Italy, bound to a wheelchair due to meningitis, it would be easy to picture her as an ace fencer paralympian.
Her discus, blessed by Vishnu, empowered another avatar in Sandra Perković from Croatia to win the gold at the Olympics. Interestingly, much before any of us were born in the 6th century BC, The Heraean Games were the first official women’s athletic competition that was held, dedicated to Hera, the queen of Olympian Gods, also the wife of Zeus in the Olympic stadium at Elis. Hera would have been profoundly happy to see the accomplishment of contemporary women in sports.

History also points towards women as gladiatrices who fought with men and other wild animals in Rome, the sport that needed valor and courage in equal measure. Mevia was one such who used a spear in her hand and hunted wild boars. Much later in Scotland somewhere in 1567, Mary Queen of Scots scored an albatross, setting an unprecedented example for women in golf. Well, that was definitely some “goulf” my lady!
A French mademoiselle, Madame Bunel defeated an English Gentleman, Mr. Tomkins, at tennis with a score of 2-1, eventually winning again in a rematch 11 days later in 1768.

Down the ages, women have marked themselves as mavins in archery, however, who could have thought that mangoes would have lured Deepika Kumari into the sport, which led her to carve a niche for Indian women in the world of archery. We see our Durgas in Mary Kom (boxing), PV Sindhu (badminton), Vinesh Phogat (wrestling), Harmanpreet Kaur (cricket), Tashi and Nungshi Malik (mountaineering), Suma Shirur (shooting), Manika Batra (table tennis) by illuminating their glories with Padma Bhushan (third highest civilian award) and Padma Shri (fourth highest civilian award.)

‘Row Row Row your boat’ a song that might have well been inspired by Ann Glanville and her team of girls who took rowing rather seriously when they rowed a four-oared watermen’s boat and won against the best male teams in their white dresses and caps. While it irked some it definitely enthralled Queen Victoria.
In America, Betty Chapman shattered the shackles of racism and became the first coloured woman to play professional softball. And Ms. Patricia McCormick literally took the bull by its horn by being the first woman matadora in America. While Angela Hernandez of Spain won a fight against the system to lift a ban on women matadoras. Sexism made these women see Red.

Starting from Billie Jean King, Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Sania Mirza, the William girls, each of them has carved a space for women in tennis. The epic moment in Women’s sporting history was when Tickets for the Women’s Singles Final of the 2015 US Open sold faster than the Men’s final.
Mieko Nagaoka, the first centenarian to complete 30 laps of pool in an hour and 15 minutes and 54 seconds. おめでとうみえこさん (congratulations Mieko San!)

Our own queen of track and field, PT Usha, won medals for India in the ’80s. 25 years later a 25-year-old Afghan woman called Zainab became the first woman to run a marathon in her own country.
‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’ perhaps true for Ms. Katie Sarah, fondly called Seven- Seven, from Australia, who became the first to summit the highest mountain in every continent and the seven highest volcanic peaks in 2018. Junko Tabei from Japan was the first woman to summit Mount Everest and is famously quoted “I can’t understand why men make all this fuss about Everest- it’s only a mountain”.

Tatiana Calderón became the first woman F1 test driver. A sassy girl behind the wheels.
“This is my adrenaline fix,” said Jamie Chadwick, breaking a 42-year lacuna for women by gathering all the wins in W series Motor racing that propelled her career in 2019.
Ana Carrasco from Spain became the first woman to win FIM Supersport 300 world Championship in an individual motorcycle race in 2017. Curving lean on a motorcycle, Alisha Abdullah is India’s first racing champion and Aishwarya Pissay heralded her way as the first woman of Indian origin to participate in the Baja Aragon rally in Spain.

Coming back to our Durga whom we worship during the nine-day Navratri festival, these women are all Durgas in their various avatars standing tall in solidarity, inspiring and empowering the others that follow their track. Each of them has fortified and chalked a route map for the others to succeed. Serena Williams once said, “The success of every woman should be an inspiration to another. We’re strongest when we cheer each other on.” Whether it is a Betty, a Mitali, an Ariarne or a Dalilah she crosses every hurdle, breaking the shackles of age, race, colour, gender, battling every evil of exploitation, inequality and inadequate training. She has done it all with her might. To her, we pay our salutation. A strotam from the Vedas reads, ‘Jaya Jaya he Mahishasura Mardini’ that beautifully salutes and eulogizes Her victory, slaying the demons is not a victory of one or few, it is the victory of womanhood.