|Illustration: Sushant Ahire|
The Indian women’s cricket team is on an absolute tear in the ongoing Asia Cup, demolishing opposition with an authority that rivals world-beating sides like Viv Richards’ West Indies and Steve Waugh’s Australia. Despite proving for the umpteenth time that the quality of their game is on the same level as their male counterparts, a yawning gap exists when it comes to how they’re rewarded. The prize amount for winning Player of the Match, an honour bagged so far by captain Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur, is a paltry 250 USD. In comparison, the Man of the Match in the 2016 men’s Asia Cup final, Shikhar Dhawan, took home 7,500 USD. When it comes to getting a slice of the monetary pie, women cricketers are still getting the stepchild treatment from the BCCI.
In March this year, BCCI announced new contracts for both the men’s and women’s cricket teams. A few of Kohli’s boys would be earning 14 times more money than Mithali & Co. To sum up the irony, they decided to make the announcement just a day before Women’s Day.
The pay gap between men and women players of the Indian cricket teams needs more scrutiny than merely comparing final contract figures of male and female cricketers. Not only is it a gender issue, there are also economic realities of the free market attached to it. It is important to understand why these differences exist, how the BCCI – generally regarded one of our most corrupt admin bodies – has failed, and what they can do to correct course. And there’s a lot that the richest sporting body in cricket can do.
Why do male cricketers get paid so much more than their female counterparts?
Think of men’s cricket as a chain reaction, where one thing leads to another. Male cricketers attract bigger crowds and large viewership on TV. These in turn attract big sponsorship and branding deals, which result in higher revenues being generated from the game, which then enable these fat cheques and huge monetary contracts for male players. One of the reasons women are paid less is because – sadly – women’s sport makes less money.
It brings us to a difficult question that needs deeper introspection than just a knee-jerk Twitter outrage. Why do people not follow women’s cricket with the same ardour and in the same capacity? If we don’t watch the games and follow the team’s progress with the same level of obsession that we followed Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma’s wedding, can we really blame sponsors and advertisers if they don’t see a similar potential in the women’s game? The very people who want equal pay for women players haven’t adapted to the game. Are we, then, not part of the same problem?
Some arguments have been made about how women’s sport isn’t as interesting. To which, I call bullshit. One only needs to recollect the enthralling Olympic final between PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin, or thousands of other exciting contests across sports day in and day out. To say that men’s sport is 10, 20, or 40 times more interesting to demand that kind of a pay difference, is a ridiculous argument that holds very little ground. Besides, it’s not true. Think about the success of the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia, that has been an economic success and witnessed record viewership in 2017. The 2015 Women’s Football World Cup final had more viewership in the US than the men’s football world cup final.
The market and the opportunity is right out there. If only we – viewers, the BCCI, sponsors, and advertisers – knew how to take advantage of it.
But we don’t, because women’s cricket has been primed for failure. This isn’t an equal opportunity market at many levels, and the pay cheque is only a small part of it.
This is where the BCCI can make amends. Women’s cricket will catch up with the men’s game only and only when the body decides to invest in it commercially. This can’t happen piecemeal. It has to be at a pace similar to the men’s game. They have to ensure infrastructure and quality wherein women don’t have to work part-time because sport is not a viable full-time profession. Senior domestic players make around ₹30,000 a year, which is ₹2,500 per month. You probably pay your house help a little more than that. How can the players be expected to opt for cricket as a full-time career?
It is quite appalling how little Indian women’s players are paid compared to their international counterparts in Australia and England. Cricket Australia covers its domestic cricketers under central contracts and also came up with the Women’s Big Bash League. Even the England Cricket Board has pledged £3 million for a Women’s Twenty20 Super League.
This is an important time to emphasise, yet again, that the BCCI is the richest sporting body in the cricket. In the entire world. What gives?
The solution lies in another chain reaction. If the BCCI decides to invest in the game, women players can think of it as a full-time profession. Which in turn means, that the quality of the players and the overall game will get better. We’ll see an influx of fans and sponsors that the women’s game truly deserves.
India keenly followed the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup, with the final attracting 19.53 million impressions, making it the most watched women’s sporting event in India. It’s a no brainer that we love cricket in India, and the women in blue made us super proud. After the end of the tournament, captain Mithali Raj floated the idea of a women’s T20 league in India, saying that the “time is right”.
The BCCI keeps paying lip service, making public statements about doing more for the women’s game. Now, however, the time is right for them to put their money where their mouth is. Equal pay will follow.
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