What We Don’t Talk About When We Celebrate The (Wo)Men In Blue

When it comes to bridging the gender pay gap worldwide, sports remains one of the final frontiers to be conquered. In India though – a country with one of the highest levels of wage disparity in the world – the conversation is a non-starter.

Take Indian cricket for example. Male Indian cricketers are among the richest players of the sport in the world, but female cricketers didn’t even have contracts until a decade ago. In fact, the Women’s Cricket Association of India was merged with the Board Of Cricket Control For India only in 2006, at the insistence of the International Cricket Council, and despite BCCI’s reluctance.

When the women did get contracts, the pay was peanuts. In fact, before BCCI renewed players contracts last year, the contracts of women players weren’t renewed when they expired in 2015, due to ‘an ongoing crisis’ at the board. The crisis, predictably, didn’t affect the contracts for male cricketers.

When contracts for both male and female cricketers were renewed in 2018, the difference in their wages was telling – the women’s highest Grade A contract (Rs 50 lakhs) being half the value of the lowest men’s Grade C one (Rs 1 crore).

Yet, this was not considered an issue. In fact, women players seemed grateful just to receive contracts, and to finally be able to make a livelihood out of playing the game.

The argument that’s usually made for the inequity is that since the male sport is far more popular and revenue generating, it makes more business sense to invest in it.

Another argument that’s presented is that female players just don’t match up to their male counterparts. The average cricket played by women is between 40-60 days, while the men play for 250 days and more.

In short, women cricketers neither have the same patronage, nor play the same amount as men. Many analysts, experts and even players justify the pay disparity with the arguments above, because let’s admit it, as wide as the gap maybe, everyone is grateful for the little money that’s flowing.

After all, women’s cricket was all but barren territory for the last two decades, or until the Indian women’s cricket team burst onto the scene with an inspiring performance in the 2017 World Cup. Since then, the quality of play has improved and the team has recognition. Indian women cricketers are now the highest earning in the world.

Indian Women no longer have to pay to play anymore, like Diana Edulji’s team that was asked to pay Rs 10,000 each for participation in the 1982 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand.

India vs Pakistan 2017 Women's Cricket World Cup
“Women’s cricket was all but barren territory for the last two decades, or until the Indian women’s cricket team burst onto the scene with an inspiring performance in the 2017 World Cup.”

Anything from there HAS to be a step up, right? I am not so sure.

Look, no one disputes that the women players deserve dignity and respect, or that women’s cricket may even be progressing in the right direction. The question of equal pay is, however, of fair treatment. And I’d like to make an argument for it on two grounds. One is grounded in economics and in employment. And the other is about social justice.

Money is respect. Professional cricket is increasingly become more and more about money, and when you really look at it, the money is still where it has always been: with the men. To be clear, it is not just about who gets more of it; but rather the exaggerated gap that reflects the support that men get, that women cricketers could only hope to receive someday.

It is a subtle way of downplaying women’s cricket and when we do that, we signal to girls and women that their participation in sports is important, but only in a secondary way. This in turn leads to a more dangerous trend – of women cricketers settling for whatever they get instead of actively asserting for a more just system.

I feel the question of ownership of the sport is also relevant to this debate. Because, the truth is, those who are making decisions for women’ cricket are usually men who gain nothing from changing the status quo.

The right question to ask then is not what women can do for the sport, but what sporting bodies need to do to promote women’s cricket, and if they are prioritising it enough.

Because, any sport can only grow until a point without support. And institutional support will only arrive if we set a more progressive agenda. In order to help’s women’s cricket, we need to invest in it with the same enthusiasm that we reserve for men.

The battle for equal pay is a long one. But, it cannot be fought until we challenge our own insular attitudes towards sport in the country.

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