An architecture student in Pune and an Argentinean supporter, this 19 yr old is also the scrum half for the Indian rugby team. Vaishnavi Sose and her teammates represented India at the Asian Rugby Games, 2009, which were held in Thailand, where India defeated Cambodia. They also represented India in the 4 Nation Tournaments 2009, which were held in Malaysia. She also plays for Maharashtra at the national level and KFANDRA (Khare’s Football and Rugby Academy) at club level.
At the age of 12, Vaishnavi started off by playing football with KFANDRA. “I had been playing football in the lanes outside my house with my friends. When I heard of KFANDRA, I immediately joined up for football coaching”, she says. She started playing rugby mainly because it was fun. “At KFANDRA we used to wait for the rains so we could play rugby in the wet mud”, she remembers. KFANDRA is run by Suhrud and Swapneel Khare the pioneers of women’s rugby in India. “They are not just our coaches. They mean so much to each one of us because they take efforts to take interest in our personal lives as well. Sport wise of course, they are unbelievable.”
Due to their coach’s efforts, the girls learnt how to play rugby properly and they formed a team, though there was still nobody to play against. Rugby for women hadn’t quite arrived in India yet. So, for the promotion of the game especially among girls KFANDRA held ‘exhibition’ rugby matches, where the girls from the club were divided into two teams and played against each other. “Girls then realized that they too, could play the game”, she says.
Gradually, the number of clubs for women’s rugby all over India grew and now India has 15-20 women’s rugby teams. Last year IRFU held women’s rugby nationals in Delhi where Vaishnavi had the opportunity to meet Tory Underwood, the England winger who had come to promote the game and watch them play. She also got selected to the Indian team for the Asian Games in Thailand, last year. “It was a great experience. We hadn’t really faced serious competition before. This time we did, and we learnt a lot”, she adds.
The Indian team also participated in the 4 Nations tournament which took place in Malaysia, where they ranked second. While in Malaysia the girls had the opportunity to watch teams such as Japan, China and Philippines live in action, as a men’s tournament was also taking place. Vaishnavi is now looking forward to the Asian Rugby Games which are going to be held in Hong Kong this year.
When asked if she had to face any discrimination as a girl playing rugby, she insists that she didn’t. “The men rugby players I have met in Pune have always been very supportive. They come for our games and help us out. Nobody has ever said that girls can’t play rugby. Sure, at the school level we did hear that a few times, till we proved them wrong”, she grins. If any, there is discrimination against rugby as a game as India still plays cricket. It’s because of this that games like rugby do not have much scope in India. “The government and coaches should do more to promote the game. The facilities provided to us are not good enough and there is too much politics beyond the club level. That means that though there is a state team, it is not necessary that it’s the best there is”, she says.
The whole nation plays and completely understands only cricket. That is undoubtedly where the money is in the Indian market. As cricket guarantees good returns even the government wants to invest in it. “Monetarily, it makes perfect sense. But what happens then is that the other games suffer”, says Vaishnavi. There are some other issues as well: “Rents for rugby fields cost a lot of money. The ground is generally not in a good condition and it doesn’t allow us to get the feel which is necessary for international games. And grass fields are not available because they are used by cricketers.”
Though cricket may seem like an overpowering game in this country, the true rugby and football lovers will continue loving their games. Vaishnavi at least, seems hopeful. “Now that the game has been introduced and is slowly picking up pace, I hope more and more girls will get interested and start playing good rugby.”