Yaks don’t wear skirts. Yaks don’t play badminton. Saina Nehwal and Jwala Gutta are not Yaks in skirts. They are lovely girls who play superb badminton and must remain in the news and in the record books because of their game… and not because they were asked to prance around the court in short skirts!

When I read that the new Badminton World Federation code will be in force from June 01, 2011, and will require all female players to wear skirts or dresses in major tournaments in order to ‘to ensure attractive presentation of badminton’, I decided to write this article. Let us learn more on Yaks, skirts, and the moral police that can be found in abundance today and find out if it is OK to regularise skirts or skirt the issue as frivolous.


Yak is a lovely animal. You’ll agree if you have explored Leh… or if you’ve ever google searched for Yak images. They’re sturdy animals and wouldn’t seem to get affected by temptation of any degree except when a male Yak comes close to a female yak during the mating season. With their trademark ‘EEEEEEYak Eyak Yak Yak Eaaaaaak yak. .. ya-ak’ the bull and the cow forget their grasses, herbs, mosses, and lichens to get fully immersed in the job at hand… and it doesn’t matter if the female is wearing skirts or not.

Barring the sensual moment, the adult male Yaks spends most of the year alone or in groups of as many as 12. (Tan 1996) No wonder then no Yak researcher has ever found the likes of the moral police from Meerut and Mangalore neither any official from the Badminton World Federation amongst Yak population anywhere in the world.

However, we do not yet know what would happen if players wearing short skirts were to play badminton with Yaks as audience. Though Woody Allen does seem to think he knows, for he wrote: ‘She wore a short skirt and a tight sweater and her figure described a set of parabolas that could cause cardiac arrest in a yak.’ So obviously, if the Badminton federation is seriously thinking of applying this skirt-law they’ll also have ensure the presence of a few cardiologists around during matches.

Now that we are on the subject of Yaks, I insist that we go deep in thought and try to answer these valid yak-flavoured questions:

Will a she-Yak (Dri) in skirts play badminton as well as Jwala in skirts?

Will the audience still be there to cheer in large numbers if yak-masked players in skirts were playing?

Well, there are a few obvious conclusions:

  1. A skirt does nothing to make anyone a better badminton player.
  2. Females can yak but Yaks can’t replace females.
  3. It is badminton skills that need applause and not players in skirts.

Skirting the issue

How I wish skirts were excel sheets that told everything about the performance level the level of preparedness of a player… then even pole-vaulters would want to don them! But they don’t. If skimpy clothes were what sold tickets to sporting events, let’s all reserve our ‘aye’ for it… but we know that cricket sells despite the heavily armoured players!

‘That’s the reason we want to introduce skirts in badminton… to counter the heavy fan following of cricket,’ the skirt promoter will say.

‘Did ‘King’s Speech’ have bikini-clad royalty? No, and yet it won the Oscar and is an immensely watchable film. Does ‘The Finkler Question’ resort to undressing its characters? No, and yet it won the Man Booker award and is very readable. ‘

‘Why compare a poor game with hits in the movie world and the world of books? We just want to make badminton as popular as cricket. Simple.’

‘Just as a movie needs to reach out as watchable and a book must reach out as readable to sell, even badminton needs to reach out to people.’

‘That’s the reason we want to bring in skirts!’

We were literally skirting the real issue here and I decided to tell this skirt promoter that there were a million other facets than simply bringing in skirts to give this game the position it deserves in people’s heart. The federation must admit that they are seriously short of revolutionary ideas. Let me share one previously unexplored idea.

‘I have no problems because I wear skirts on and off the court. I think they are just trying to glamorize the sport,’ the doubles specialist Jwala Gutta says. So that’s it… the federation plans to popularise the game by glamorising it! That’s daft. How many people actually camp all night for a ticket to enter Wimbledon to just ogle at Sharapova’s skirt? Do you still believe that people go to a cricket match to watch the cheer leaders jiggle and shake?

Will just skirts bring about the revolution that the badminton authorities are praying for? And anyway, would they actually disallow someone from playing if she refuses to wear a skirt? Skirts don’t matter! Imagine the excitement that will come from watching a player with both legs tied with a nylon cord (she could opt for a khadi cord to display patriotism) and hops around the entire court trying to reach the shuttle before it lands somewhere inside the court. Is there a rule that says a player cannot do this? After all, just a few years back would someone have even thought that international matches in cricket would be played in just 20 overs for each team? The federation needs to think out-of-the-box… is all that I want to emphasise.

Saina Nehwal shares: ‘I think it’s OK. Playing in skirts is not an issue.’ Obviously, she is correct. Just as playing in skirts is not an issue, not playing in skirts is also not an issue. A player must have the freedom to decide the form, colour, size, fabric, ease, convenience, and whatever else is essential so far as her dress is concerned. Imagine a match between a sari-clad player and one wearing a sarong… such a retro charm it would exude! Moreover, if they tend to keep tripping it may end up enhancing an entirely different type of excitement. Badminton matches would be charming culture parades too. There would be colour all over the playing area. Though to symbolise authority, the federation can make it mandatory for the referees to wear air-force grey skirts (for females) and knee length bermudas in the same colour for men.

Even if some players insist on wearing skirts, so be it… though the federation can attempt to offer exotic flavours as options there… like not allowing handkerchiefs with skirts and calling it the Desdemona’s strategy! Ambrose Bierce writes: ‘…our ancestors knew nothing of it (handkerchief) and entrusted its duties to the sleeve. Shakespeare introduced this exotic touch ‘Othello’ and made Desdemona dry her nose with her skirt, as Dr. Mary Walker and other reformers have done with their coattails in our own day – an evidence that revolutions sometimes go backward.’

Ronald Knox has written: ‘A good sermon should be like a woman’s skirt: short enough to arouse interest but long enough to cover the essentials.’ Taking a cue from his words, let me give some more suggestions to the badminton fraternity here and abroad that ‘arousing interest’ is what they want… and for this they may as well take inspiration from proverbs from different countries.

  • Who has skirts of straw needs fear the fire. (Romanian Proverb) They can have players wearing straw skirts designed to catch fire if the player relaxes the tempo of the game for more time than authorised. Wouldn’t this bring in the masses to watch this game? Who knows, this may go on to inspire the Indian cricket team to seek special permission to make Ashish Nehra wear trousers made of this material!
  • The underskirt is longer than the skirt. (Hungarian Proverb) Ooooh! Sounds so kinky!
  • I shall sit on his skirt. (Scotch Proverb) There can be a an exceptional rule added here where a non-skirt wearing player has the option of hitting the shuttle and running to the other side to sit on the skirt of her skirt wearing opponent! Makes the game full of a zippy zest!
  • Don’t make a goat your friend if your skirt is made of plantation leaves, or else it will strip you naked. (African Proverb) A goat is allowed to rush towards the player wearing a plantation leaf skirt every time she loses a point… who will the audience cheer for is anybody’s guess.
  • A woman who counsels you either puts you in a skirt or a bridle. (Sicilian Proverb) I am unable to think of a viable rule for this one… maybe one of the Dons in the federation has a better idea.
  • The devil lives beneath a slattern woman’s skirts. (Polish Proverb) The Polish gambit allows a player to hide a trained puppy inside her skirt. This puppy can be released to move fast and keep the shuttle from hitting the ground as the slower player reaches it. Obviously, less energetic players would benefit from this rule.

These suggestions, I presume, are enough material for the federation to sit down before June 01 and do some real strategic ideation to bring the game to a level that equals the hysteria that cricket manages to inspire.

The nit-pickers

Krishna Tirath, a member of India’s parliament has a remarkable explanation for not allowing skirts. She says: ‘There are some things we cannot copy from the West as our society does not approve of pre-marital sex, it must be done undercover.’ Well, why just pre-marital… why not mention post-marital as well… after all we have had the Modi saga to back it up. And I didn’t really grasp the complete essence of ‘undercover’ here… but then I also don’t understand what the constables from Meerut meant (through their moral policing) or what the culture extremists from Mangalore meant (again because of moral policing) or what Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui means (for Sania Mirza who plays tennis) when he says: ‘The dress she wears on the tennis courts… leaves nothing to the imagination. She will undoubtedly be a corrupting influence.’ (Told to Hindustan Times) People like the ones I have mentioned will surely get up and burn down a few buses, initiate a few ‘chakka-jaams’, do a bit of soulful looting and go home satisfied… without ever managing to get the skirts off anyone! They thrive on the word ‘provocation’ and its derivative ‘provocative’… misinterpret every syllable there and have always managed to enter the history books as ‘culture idiots’.

Culture idiots aren’t a new breed. Supriya Panda writes: ‘People in 1968 protested against Beauty Contests because they felt that they portray women as sex –objects whereas the Slut-Walk is a protest against the concept that those women are being harassed more who put on ‘provocative’ dresses. Saroj, I don’t accept the 1968 protest. Because if ‘beauty-with-brain’ (the objective of Beauty Pageants) is focused then they see sex in it. However, why do they keep mum when male body builders show each part of their bodies!’ (Comment in this blog: http://feminine-fragrance.blogspot.com/)

If you ask me, there is actually nothing called a ‘raunchy culture’. Sarojini Sahoo points out in her blog by sharing from the ideas of three books ‘The Feminine Mystique’, ‘The Beauty Myth’ and ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture’. They are written by Betty Friedan, Naomi Wolf and Ariel Lev respectively in different time span.

Sarojini writes: ‘Even feminists of second wave commented the women who like make up and beauty tips as ‘lipstick feminist’. My question is that to whom the second wave feminists mentioned as products of ‘raunchy culture’ or ‘lipstick feminists’, now come down to street and proclaim that to wear a mini skirt or lipstick is also their rights and nobody has to say on these topics. I think it is one type of revolt of third wave feminists over that of second wave.’

I’ve mentioned the feminist point of view to emphasise that culture perceptions change with the changing times. Truth also needs to unlearn and relearn newer basic tenets to remain relevant. Nit-pickers and social extremists are somewhat like the stereotyped NRIs who think of India as the same as when they had left it decades back. Both need to wake up!

The conclusion

Lilyana Natsir of Indonesia (the two-time mixed doubles world champion) has said that she never wore skirts in tournaments. ‘Skirts hamper my movement when I play,’ Natsir told the Jakarta Globe. The federation must be sensitive to every kind of person playing a game… rules are surely not meant to strangle talent. Rules need to have reasonable flexibility inbuilt into them so that neither the game nor its economics suffer!

So far as the culture extremists are concerned, Sania has the last word for them: ‘As long as I am winning, people shouldn’t care whether my skirt is six inches or 6 foot long. How I dress is a very personal thing.’ The federation needs to act in a way that is neither understood as one that is extremism of a sort nor something that lets badminton go deeper into the depths of being a forgettable game. A mere insistence on players wearing skirts is hardly something that will fill the stadium up.

Moreover, as Jwala Gutta remarks: ‘But I don’t think it’s the right way. You can’t pressurize anybody to wear anything. What kind of clothes a person wears is totally up to them. It’s totally a personal choice.’

The federation and anyone else who has the good badminton foremost, needs to go beyond the mundane thought of making skirts mandatory. I have a few suggestions… but they will be there in a separate article later.


Arvind Passey
16 May 2011