Game on: Indian sportswomen vs the spectator

Fiona FernandezThe Women’s Cricket World Cup currently underway in India might be the biggest stage for the world’s best women cricketers to showcase their skills. Yet, a few days back, as one watched televised highlights of the Australia versus England Super Six encounter played at Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium, the empty stands didn’t come across as a great advertisement for the women’s game.

This, despite the fact that it was being played in the cradle of Indian cricket, where there isn’t a dearth of experts and knowledgeable fans nor was the actual game a bore. The Aussies went on to snatch a hard-fought win by two runs, in an evenly matched nail-biter.

Women's Cricket World Cup

Listening to the commentary too, from the much-revered suited superstars in the box, gave one the impression that it was their day off or more like a walk in the park, if we were to borrow from their lingo. Viewers had to contend with the odd nugget or anecdote about these rarely-seen, never-heard-of players, forget about their backgrounds, and success stories.

Clearly a trick in the book was missed here, especially since it was being aired on one of the big ticket sports channels. Surely, it would have gone a long way in familiarising new audiences about these new superstars who deserve every bit of recognition.

This unequal approach is in stark comparison to the battery of information that one is subject to, often an overkill, whenever the men’s version of the game is played, whether on a matted wicket in Singapore or at a scenic Himalayan stadium. The lesser said about the crowds the better.

Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a new angle to fire a salvo on behalf of the feminists. It’s more of an observation from over the years, of the Indian spectators’ perception of sport and women. Take any other discipline where Indian women have made a mark badminton, tennis, athletics, archery, boxing, hockey, squash or the field events.

Crowds are rare, unless of course, it comes with a medal-winning, big-ticket, marquee name (read: Saina Nehwal, MC Mary Kom, Sania Mirza). The rest (Krishna Poonia, Tintu Luka, Dola Banerjee), will be the first to admit that playing in empty stands across India remains part and parcel of their profession. A bit of glamour (Dipika Pallikal) might help draw in a few more, and perhaps bring in endorsements, but for how long?

The media should look inward too. How much of column space is dedicated to the Indian sportswoman on our sports pages across newspapers and magazines, and on news websites? No doubt, the current world cup has seen a pleasant surge, with excellent coverage and stories.

Yet, what happens later, after the dust has settled? Informative stories on fresh talent, human interest sagas to make it big on the state/national/international arena, are far and few. Mary Kom’s inspiring story despite her world titles, made headlines in India in a big way only after her Olympic berth.

It’s imperative to help create a more knowledgeable, well-rounded and balanced reader (and spectator). So, the next time around he or she comes across a women’s volleyball game on the telly, it doesn’t lead to the switching of channels based on the gender of the sportspersons on court. It’s a small step towards creating a measured sporting sensibility in a country like ours.

The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY 

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