The Department of English, University of Hyderabad, hosted a one-day National Conference titled “Queer Spaces in Sports” on 09/02/2024. The conference was organised by Dr Sireesha Telugu and Dr Bhaskar Lama as a part of their IoE-UoH project Queer Spaces in Sports: An Ethnographic Study. The inaugural session proceeded in the presence of the IoE Director, Prof. Ghanashyam Krishna, and the Head of Department, English, Prof. D. Murali Manohar. The keynote address was delivered by Arjuna Awardee athlete Dutee Chand. The other invited speakers were Ramesh Nagapuri, a Dronacharya Awardee in athletics; Hoshang Merchant, an acclaimed poet and professor; and Anamika Leo, the first transgender referee in India. Additionally, two panels of paper presentations, titled “Storying Queerness in Sporting Spaces” and “Non-Normative Genders, Sports, and the Politics of Inclusivity”, were also a part of the schedule.

In Dutee Chand’s keynote address titled “Observation and Experience of Queer Spaces in Sports”, she talked about her struggles during her formative years as an athlete, the lack of infrastructure, social backlash and gender discrimination. Then, she spoke of the various struggles faced by athletes off the track, where athletes have to take care of their bodies, handle public criticism about their performance, and manage their personal lives. She also mentioned about her sexuality and the challenges she faced due to that. The next speaker, Ramesh Nagapuri, spoke about the importance of need-based attention that caters to the specific requirements of each athlete. He mentioned the difficulties that athletes from developing countries face, like the lack of proper equipment, proper nutritious diet, and financial and moral support from one’s family, providing anecdotes from his experiences.

In the post-lunch session, Hoshang Merchant shared narratives of personal experiences and then referred to the works of R. Raj Rao and Laxman Gaikwad. He talked of locker room experience and same-sex encounters with sportsmen at Purdue University and in an Iranian gym. Anamika Leo recounted her experiences as a trans Judo athlete in Kerala. Anamika’s talk was about the lacunae in the policy formation and execution of transgender people in sports. However, Anamika also mentioned the positive impact of policies benefitting transgender sportspersons, like Kerala’s Transgender Policy (2015), which directs the prevention of police harassment of transgender women, affirmative action in higher education institutions, and funding for gender reassignment surgery. Anamika suggested that instead of banning transgender athletes from sports altogether, one alternative is to introduce a separate category for transgender athletes to promote inclusivity and representation.

The conference also had two panels of paper presentations, one before lunch and the other after lunch. Each panel comprised three paper presentations—the scholars for the paper presentation hailed from different disciplines and parts of the country. The scholars used frameworks like social identity theory and social categorisation theory to historical narratives to understand individual collective behaviour through psychological and social processes and how societal influence affects an individual’s self-worth and perceptions. Another paper dealt with the discrimination faced by sports personalities while identifying themselves within the queer spectrum. The panel also had a paper on the politics of gender in the representation of female protagonists in Hindi sports cinema post-2000. One of the papers provided insight into the inclusivity of transgenders in the domain of sports, for which the right policies and social acceptance are the prerequisites. Another paper talked about the inclusion of non-binary people in Ultimate Frisbee games and the possibilities and problematics of coining terms like “male matching” and “female matching” to represent non-binary people in tournaments. Interestingly, a paper also mentioned the point of how sports academies provide a platform for the training grounds for athletics and institutions that can significantly influence the societal perception of gender binaries, particularly regarding gender equality in sports.

In the valedictory session, the paper presenters were presented with certificates by Prof. Hoshang Merchant. Concluding remarks were made, feedback and comments were sought, and it ended with a vote of thanks. The conference was a unique medley of invited speakers and paper presentations, which blended the experiential take of people on the sports arena and its research in academics.

Inputs by Ishita, Ann Maria, Deepika, Bihan, Gayatri, Nehna, Prakarsh, Liya, Sushma, Vartika, Jaya, Swati and compiled by PhD scholar Laboni Mukherjee.