India’s Million dollar babies
The tenth edition of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup in India turned out to be a low-key affair, largely unnoticed by the public. Thanks to the host broadcaster ESPN-STAR, a few new faces of women cricketers came to light, but the matches lacked enthusiastic crowds and advertisements.
Unlike men’s cricket, there were no heated post-match panel discussions on news channels, and media coverage was minimal. This raises questions about the popularity of women’s cricket in India, where cricket is often considered a national obsession. Surprisingly, despite women’s cricket being in existence since the mid-1970s, it has seen little progress compared to its male counterpart. While male cricketers are now earning millions, female cricketers receive meager compensation, with a domestic match fetching only Rs. 2500 and Rs. 1250 for a T20 match. Pension for women cricketers who have played five Tests or more is a mere Rs. 15,000 per month, whereas male cricketers who have played 25 Tests or more receive Rs. 35,000, and those who have played fewer than 25 Tests receive Rs. 25,000.
Last year’s IPL saw BCCI honoring 15 ex-players with surplus revenue from IPL, but not a single woman cricketer featured in that list. It is disheartening that women’s cricket continues to be a low priority for administrators, and this lack of recognition is not limited to just the IPL.
Critics argue that women’s cricket is not fast-paced enough to attract crowds and TV viewers compared to men’s cricket. However, such comparisons are unfair, as men and women have different physical abilities. We don’t compare Serena Williams with Roger Federer or Mary Kom with Vijender Singh. It is essential to appreciate women’s cricket for what it is, without making excuses or unfair comparisons.
Historically, sports have been dominated by male athletes, with little recognition given to their female counterparts in sports like football, hockey, basketball, and cricket. The stories of women athletes often go untold, and they face numerous challenges to reach the pinnacle of success. Women’s sportspersons, like Mary Kom and PT Usha, have fought against discrimination to gain recognition, and their achievements highlight the triumph of the human spirit. Women athletes deserve the same admiration and respect as their male counterparts.
In India, both men and women face structural obstacles in the development of sports culture. However, women encounter additional hurdles, such as societal expectations around family and motherhood. The lack of encouragement for women’s sports in schools, colleges, and universities further discourages potential talents from pursuing sports as a career.
To empower women in sports, India needs a significant shift in its approach:
- Investment in Women’s Sports: Adequate funding and infrastructure should be allocated for the development of women’s sports.
- Encouraging Participation: Initiatives to promote women’s sports at the grassroots level and in educational institutions will encourage participation from a young age.
- Job Security and Financial Aid: Sports organizations should provide job security and financial aid to female athletes to support their careers.
- Qualified Coaching Staff: The availability of qualified coaching staff is crucial for nurturing talent and enhancing performance.
- Challenging Gender Stereotypes: Breaking gender stereotypes around women’s participation in sports will pave the way for a more inclusive sporting culture.
- Media Coverage: Increased media coverage of women’s sports will raise awareness and attract sponsors.
- Support for Maternity: Policies that support women athletes during pregnancy and post-maternity will enable them to balance family and sports commitments.
The recent successes of athletes like Saina Nehwal and Mary Kom in the Olympics have been inspirational and are likely to motivate other women to pursue sports as a career. While there is still much work to be done, these “Million Dollar Babies” are ushering in new hopes for women’s sports in India. By nurturing and supporting their talents, India can create a more inclusive and vibrant sporting culture that celebrates the achievements of both men and women in sports.