Is it time we stop calling cricket “A gentleman’s game”?

Is it time we stop calling cricket “A gentleman’s game”?

ICC Women’s World T20
Shikha Pandey of India is congratulated by teammates celebrates after taking the wicket of Meg Lanning of Australia during the women’s Twenty20 International match between Australia and India at Adelaide Oval on January 26, 2016 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Morne DeKlerk – CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images)

On 15th March 2016, when the 5th Women’s World T20 begins we will, for the first time in the history of the tournament, see 2 Women umpires officiate a game. The ICC in a bid to boost the viewership of the Women’s game will telecast 13 of the 23 games, which according to them is unprecedented. These welcome steps look to make the game more inclusive.

Even the sponsors for the event and teams are now taking conscious steps to make the game more inclusive. It was heartening to see that India’s official jersey sponsor Nike’s campaign had players from both the men’s and the women’s team. Even Nissan, one of the main sponsors for the mega event, in one of their ads had New Zealand all-rounder Suzie Bates along with West Indian all-rounder Andre Russell and Indian batsman Rohit Sharma.

These are small gestures that make the game more inclusive and it is said that small gestures go a long way. I would like to believe that to be true, however when you compare the certain aspects of the game where there is blatant disparity in pay, media coverage etc. you’d realize how calling cricket “A Gentleman’s game” might actually hamper it from the ladies relating themselves to the game.

In the 5th Edition of the Women’s World T20 (6th for Men), the ICC called telecasting 13 out of 23 games as unprecedented. At the same time, they will be telecasting all 35 games of the Men’s edition. This is about 3x more matches being telecast. If that weren’t enough, only one Women’s game is going to get the Primetime slot of 7.30 p.m. while all the other 12 telecasted games will be played in the afternoon. Au contraire, 19 of the 35 men’s games got the prime time slot. It is not as if the Women’s games didn’t get the primetime slot. The ICC has scheduled 9 women’s games starting at 7.30 pm but plans to telecast only one of them.

I for one wanted to watch each game of the Women in Blue and cheer for them during the tournament but all their games are going to be held during the day and as someone who is just an average cricket fan, it feels as if the ICC doesn’t care much about the fans of the Indian Women’s team. The fact that during the 2015 Men’s World Cup held in Australia, 5 of the 6 group games for India were scheduled on the Weekend or a holiday in India (the game v/s WI was on Holi, a national holiday). While the ICC did take into consideration Indian fans’ convenience while planning an event in Australia, it is really disappointing that when the event is being held in India, the women’s team didn’t get a single primetime game.

Many would argue that the ICC planned the Men’s WC games due the revenue a billion people watching the game in India might bring in and many times, organising such events can be a function of the revenue/viewership that a particular game brings in and ultimately the prize money awarded too depends on it.

The total prize money for the Men’s event is a whopping USD 5.6 million, the allocation for the Women’s event is only USD 400,000. Men will be paid 14x more than Women. The pay gap here is way too steep and not many are addressing this issue.

Let us consider a sport like tennis, where the prize money the winners of the Men’s and the Women’s grand slam get is the same. This wasn’t an overnight change, but over time, people started pointing out the disparity and they started to make amends. Tennis has 4 Grand Slams a year, which means the rate of correction is much quicker than cricket as from this year onwards, even the World T20 is going to be a quadrennial event, just like the 50-over World Cup. And hence once the World T20 gets over, ICC should get together and try and resolve this issue.

Cricket administrators can learn a thing or two from the way Tennis is organised. The Women’s finals are telecast a day prior to the Men’s final but it still gets the prime time slot. There is a sense of equality in that sport. Unlike cricket where, the Semis and the Finals of both Women’s and Men’s edition will be played the same day at the same ground and as usual, the Women will get the afternoon slot and Men, the prime time. This makes one feel as if the organizers think the women’s game to be a mere starter and the men’s to be the real deal, the main course. Even in the recent tour to Australia where the Indian women’s and men’s team played back to back against their Australian counterparts, there was a huge difference in the crowd that turned up for those games. The women’s game, schedule in the morning saw empty stands while the men’s game had close a full house.

In a recent interview, Indian Women’s team’s captain, Mithali Raj said “There is a possibility if our matches are televised. That attracts a lot of brands and corporate sponsorships for individual players. If only a few games are televised and you don’t have a follow-up, like no live coverage of the Sri Lanka series after the Australia series, where we did so well, things will not improve.”

This really boils down to the perception of the women’s game. A lot can change if the perception is changed. If we, and I say we because WE are the stakeholders of this game we all love, starting treating and reporting both men’s and women’s game equally, the respective boards will eventually take notice and start telecasting more women’s games around the year along with the World Cup and other mega events. As Keynesian economics goes, more reporting>more telecast>more sponsors>more revenue>more spending>more awareness and more people taking up the game. Ok, I may not be that great at economics but it will be something like that.

In that interview, Mithali Raj also went on to say “Women’s cricket can stand alone as a brand, but right now it needs men’s cricket to support it.” It is about time,male cricketers should take a stand on the various issues plaguing the women’s game, such as:

  • The pay gap issue
  • Encourage more women to take up cricket as a career, not just playing the game but umpiring, commentary, reporting etc.
  • Have an IPL for women too, this might really boost the popularity at the back of the success of the Women’s Big Bash League
  • Telecast of games around the year and not just the “tokenism” during mega events
  • Central Contracts for Women Cricketers
  • Development of the game at the domestic level
  • Having Women as part of the organizing committees of the various cricket boards: this kind of representation will help us achieve more success in the game both on and off the field

The road ahead of Women’s cricket is exciting and if the right issues are addressed it will become a huge success. Until then I would like to wish all the teams in the fray all the luck in the world and may the best team win.