Dutee Chand: I don’t let the attention on my personal life affect on-field performance
Dutee ChandDutee Chand: Attention on personal life has not affected my performanceFour months ago, not many knew Dutee Chand outside the avid sports fans circle of India. The sprinter had won multiple laurels, including silvers in both the Asian and Commonwealth Games last year. But she wasn’t quite the talk of the town. It all changed in May the moment she became the first Indian athlete to come out as a member of the LGBTQ community. Suddenly, she was a household name. “This was new for everyone, for the fans, for the media, for the society as a whole. No sportsperson had come out like this in India. That is why it was talked about so much,” she says.
It was all quite new for Dutee too, she admits. She had been used to giving interviews only about her on-field victories. But the constant phone calls from journalists and constant attention to personal life annoyed her. “Basically, people got some masala out of my life at that time. The media also found something new to talk about. When people talk about sportspersons, it’s about their performances and the medals they win for the country but in my case, it was suddenly all about my relationship and my personal life. So everyone’s focus was on that. But my focus was on training only. I was irritated at that time and was under a lot of mental pressure but I didn’t lose sight of the goal,” she says. Dutee adds that her results right after she came out back her statement. She reminds us, “A few weeks after all that, I won two medals at the World University Games. That shows that my performance did not suffer.”
She laughs when we mention that her interviews hardly touch her on-field performances and wins nowadays. She was last seen in action at the World Championships in Doha where she finished 37th overall. Even though she failed to qualify for the Olympics there, Dutee hasn’t lost hope. She says, “The World Championships and Olympics are the same level. The qualifying mark (for 100m women) of 11.15s is quite difficult for me (Dutee’s personal best is 11.24s). I will try my best to do that but nobody in India has achieved that timing yet. But I have seven-eight months in hand before the Olympics and I will train hard, go abroad for that too.”
The 23-year-old emphasises that her off-the-field battles are important because of the impact they have on society. It was her appeal against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) policy on hyperandrogenism in the Court of Arbitration for Sport that led to female athletes with high testosterone levels being allowed to compete internationally. She says that standing up for the LGBTQ community is similar. “A lot of new things have happened to me. One day, they told me that due to hyperandrogenism, I cannot compete. I appealed and fought it and came back to win for the country. Coming out was easier than that. I have always created history and done something that others haven’t been able to. This might be separate from the sport but it is important,” she says
Her life has transformed since she announced she was in a same-sex relationship four months ago. Most important of those changes, Dutee says, is that she is less stressed now. “Life has become so much easier now. I was under so much stress earlier because my sister would torture me. She would ask me for money and threaten to out me if I did not give in to her demands. She treated it as a crime. But then the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 came and I felt it was safe to come out. I feel so relieved having done that. There is no need for me to fear anyone now,” says Dutee.
But the first few weeks after coming out were stressful for Dutee, she tells us. “When I came out, initially, I faced some mocking. For the first 10-15 days, sometimes when I was out in public, people would shout things like ‘lesbian’,” she recounts. All this, however, stopped once Dutee starting winning on the track again, particularly after her win in the World University Games. “I gained new fans after that,” she says, adding, “Now when I am at the airport or in a hotel lobby or market, people come to me for selfies.”