In a moving speech ahead of the launch of a new U.N. Women Hindi anthem, tennis star Sania Mirza opened up about the obstacles she faced as a young girl with a strong interest in sports.
“I started playing tennis when I was six years old, at a time when a girl playing tennis in Hyderabad was unheard of,” Mirza said on Wednesday. She recalled that her extended family were originally extremely discouraging when her parents revealed her passion for tennis, even saying that no one would marry a female athlete.
“My aunts and uncles were like ‘kali ho jayegi dekhna, koi shaadi nahi karega,’” she added. The Hindi phrase translates to ‘her skin will darken and nobody will marry her.’ The winner of six doubles Grand Slam tournaments acknowledged that her supportive parents were an essential factor to her success.
“I thought my dad is the greatest hero because he stood up against everyone,” she said. “They use to mock my parents and say what do you think, that your daughter is going to become a Martina Hingis? The fate had it that I had to win three of my Grand Slams with Martina Hingis.”
Mirza was part of a group of Indian athletes and celebrities who helped unveil the new song “Mujhe Haq Hai,” a new U.N. Women anthem that translates to “I Have the Right.” The recently unveiled video for the song features stars including Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Waheeda Rehman, Kriti Sanon. In addition to Mirza, other athletes that appear in the video include cricketer Mithali Raj and kickboxing star Tajamul Islam.
Mirza told the audience that she felt a particular connection to both, the song and U.N. Women’s larger mission, given her experiences as a professional athlete in India. “UN Women and I go a long way back and it’s been an incredible journey. People talk in whispers about inequality but it’s not really come out in the open and out loud,” she said. “If I’m able to bring about a change in one person or one family, by talking or interacting with them, I’ll think of myself as really lucky.”
Mirza is also expecting her first child with her husband Shoaib Malik, a Pakistani cricket player.