First Woman Umpire: B. Sumathi Hariharan Aiyar BA, BL.
Updated: Sep 24
Our first Asian National, International women umpire in cricket, a middle-order bat and an off-spinner who represented Tamilnadu for 27 years and has received International Accreditation as MENTOR by City & Guilds, London, is in our midst since 1998, maintaining a humble presence, in spite of having crossed several milestones, as a Manager from Canara Bank. ‘All unto others and nothing unto self ’, was the driving mantra which brought in a lot of accolades for her in the field of Women Empowerment.
She is Sumathi Iyer of Besant Nagar who started playing cricket, during her school days, at her Ayyathurai Iyer Colony residence at Luz. She lived in a joint family with lots of colony boys as neighbours and her 5 sisters. it was all great fun. (Those were the days!!!!).
She took the test conducted by the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association to qualify as an umpire in 1976-77, after her coach - former Ranji player late P.K.Dharmalingam, persuaded her to go for it. Her first match as an umpire was in 1980. She is an Associate Member of the Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers in England since 1978 and has umpired in eight festivals of the Rotary world cricket cup in different countries.
“Umpiring is exhausting, no doubt - standing in one place and keeping a watch on the movement of the ball, but my love for the game keeps me going. It was a male fortress I was invading when I entered the field as a woman umpire. But I had the maturity to ignore smirks and sneers and maintain my dignity,” she says. Sumathi Iyer is now the Chairman of the selection committee for Tamilnadu women’s cricket.
Her stint at Canara Bank is always close to her heart. “Canara bank has been a pioneer in the field of women empowerment - the vision of Ammembal Subbarao Pai, its Founder. I was identified for my enthusiasm and spirit at my workplace and was asked to head this department. I conducted several training programs in Chennai, coordinating with TN Women’s Development Corporation, Department of Industries and Commerce, and Social Welfare Department. In fact, the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, Ahmedabad (EDII), appointed me as its Regional Coordinator for the Southern region. I was also a part of the selection committee in TN Govt. Women's Development Corporation.”
There is another face to her which is nobler and speaks of her empathetic nature. “It is my nature to always think of how helpful I can be to others. It may be a small contribution or it may turn the other’s life 360 degrees, but that is immaterial. I have been associated with Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST), since 1995 and have been a mentor. Lakshmi Venkatesan, daughter of our Former President Late R.Venkatraman, brought in this Mentorship concept to India emulating what Prince Charles had been doing in England. I visited Russia recently for a conference in this regard, conducted by Youth Business International (YBI) which is present in 50 odd countries. It was conducted in Moscow and Surgut in Siberia, wherein success stories were shared. Our government is encouraging entrepreneurs and wanted BYST to take this up at a galloping pace.” Persons wanting to start a business or develop it can approach BYST at their website; those with a professional background, having a passion to help/support entrepreneurs, may also register their names in the website, as MENTORS.
From the vibrant game of cricket, Sumathi switched loyalties to the sedentary but intellectual mind game of cards – Bridge. She and her husband started playing Bridge at Madras Gymkhana Club for recreation. But her dedication took her to great heights, as usual. She was the only qualified woman official at the 42nd World Cup Bermuda Bowl, held for the first time in India, at Chennai, by The Bridge Federation of India, at ITC Grand Chola in 2016.
This piece of news brightened me up a bit because, in these times when outdoor sports seems a far dream, there is a ray of hope for indoor recreational activities. I learnt that there are 17 club teams in TN like the Alumni club, Gandhi Nagar Club, Presidency Club, Madras Cricket Club, Mylapore Club, Madras Club, Coonoor club, Kodai club, etc. which offer this game. Also, Bridge classes are organised even in schools like Sishya, DAV, Shankara, and a few Corporation schools and at IIT, Madras, by Tamil Nadu Bridge Association.
Surprisingly, in Corporation schools only those children who were not very bright in studies participated but it was found that they showed marked improvement in academic performance. This game is great for improving your mental faculties for all age groups.
A few words which Sumathi has for our readers, “It’s a tough world out there. You need to be scaling up your capabilities even to stay in the same place. Physical and mental fitness should always be taken care of, whatever field you are in.”
Sumathi Iyer can be contacted at 93804 47856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bridge Classes are conducted through Google Meet and have participants worldwide. Interested persons can contact her. Concessions are offered for husband and wife and students.