India’s most decorated squash player, Dipika Pallikal is pleased to be spending time at home with her husband Indian cricketer Dinesh Karthik, during the coronavirus lockdown and with sports not being possible. Keeping themselves busy for most of the time of the year, Dipika has the time to wind off. However, being away from sports hasn’t dampened her spirit. “Before the lockdown, we hardly got time to stay at home. Now, it’s been more than two months since we are locked at home, but the pursuit for self-improvement and positivity has not been dampened, even in these trying times. I am focusing on my fitness while staying indoors. We have discovered new ways of keeping fit at home. Staying positive is important at such times. I believe the unifying spirit of sport is one of the things that can inspire us to look forward and bring positivity into our lives.” says Dipika in a conversation with The Bridge.
Dipika, who is the current world No. 19 in squash, achieved a career-high ranking of world number 10 in 2012. Dipika found success at the highest level of the sport. She won the doubles gold medal at Glasgow Commonwealth Games. 2018 was a landmark year in her decorated career as she achieved success at the Gold Coast Games and returned from the Asian Games with 2 silver medals.
She took a brief break from the sport after the Asian Games in 2018 and she hasn’t been involved in competitive action since then. However, post the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Dipika feels she will be ready to get back on the circuit. “I decided to take a break for a year or so post Commonwealth and Asian Games because I felt I was mentally lacking motivation. I wanted to take a seat back and look over a few things before I got back on the court. I feel I am ready to get back on court now,” expresses the 28-year-old.
Dipika has been playing the sport from a very young age and has been one of the icons of the sport in the country along with Joshna Chinappa and Saurav Ghosal. The trio has certainly brought India to the world map of squash and furnished a golden era in the game. However, there’s a long road ahead. After the departure of Egyptian coach Achraf Karargui following the CWG in 2018, the national squash federation has been hiring event-based coaches and the squash stars have been left without a full-time coach. Dipika believes that although she has trained overseas, to take the sport forward in the country, changes are needed. She says, “We were lucky to be able to contribute to the sport. It’s something we three are proud of. At present, a lot of work has to be done, to be honest. Just the general stuff like international coaches, a lot more exposure for the juniors, among other priorities. As a junior, I was travelling a lot more and even playing in the senior circuit because I wanted to get better. I don’t see this attitude in the juniors today. It is now more about how many national titles they win rather than being the best in the world.”
Dipika has always been vocal and spoke out her mind when it comes to the issues or concerns regarding the sport. She has been a strong advocate of equal pay in sports. Besides, she also has time and again expressed her grief about squash being not added in the Olympic roster. She hopes that after coronavirus fiasco when sports returns, doesn’t create the disparity between the two sexes. “I think we all have been affected by these uncertain times and we hope whenever we get back on the field or court that we all are treated and respected equally.”
Dipika has been actively contributing for India’s frontline workers through Adidas’ unique proposition – HomeTeam Heroes Challenge where her workouts are being utilised for a noble cause. Under this challenge, for every hour of activity an athlete does into the Adidas running app or partner apps; the company will donate USD 1 to the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, to reach one million hours.
She concludes, “I am very excited to join the great group of global athletes in the largest virtual sporting event in history – The #HomeTeam Heroes Challenge, an ultimate donation relay to give back to our frontline warriors who are working hard to keep us safe. It also gives me the motivation to work harder as every active minute I exercise on the Adidas training & running app counts toward the mission to raise funds. I believe this is an opportunity for all of us to help make a difference with our workouts. While the world waits, now is the time to keep moving, share positivity and hope. I urge everyone to come forward and help contribute to a noble cause.”