Indian administrators must change mind-set towards women’s cricket (Ld, correcting para 18)

In 2012, the Indian Sports Ministry asked all the national sports federations (NSFs) to make provision for “at least 10 per cent of its total membership” to women, besides the 25 per cent membership and voting rights it envisaged for the government-nominated athletes on the executive committees of the NSFs.

But the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) would have none of it — it can only afford to snub the sports ministry, like it did.

In a 39-page, strongly-worded reply to the Ministry, the BCCI straightaway rejected the instructions.

“Cricket for women is no doubt conducted under the aegis of the BCCI, but (it) has never attracted even a fraction of the popularity associated with the men’s team,” it wrote.

“Our members would never accept such an illegal imposition of women having membership and voting rights over cricketing matters concerning the men’s team. In fact, this provision is downright absurd as far as the BCCI is concerned. The end result of these changes would dilute the voting rights of the existing members by 35 per cent (25+10 per cent) and that is reason enough to drop these provisions,” the Board added.

Needless to say, the BCCI never implemented the Ministry’s instructions — and got away scot-free.

Here’s another example. Just a few years ago, when I asked a former president of the Indian cricket board during a formal interview about the lack of facilities for Indian women cricketers, he chose to go “off the record” and poured out, what I felt, were his true feelings for women cricketers.

What he told me “off the record” was candid as well as disconcerting. More importantly, his “off the record” reply gave a peep into the mind-set of Indian cricket administrators vis-a-vis women cricketers.

“See, the Indian (male) players are getting the facilities after several decades; the women’s wing wanted this within two years,” he stated, off the record.

“They want to be treated on the same lines as (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni and (Sachin) Tendulkar. Within bounds and reasons, they have been given all — they have been holding camps, using the NCA (National Cricket Academy). They want to tour; they are allowed. We cannot duplicate the men’s wing for them. The men’s wing got it after many years after delivering so much on the field. Please understand that,” he said.

The reply came as a revelation of the mentality of the BCCI — of what they think about women cricketers.

As a disclaimer, let me point out that this is not to belittle the superb achievements of the men’s team over the years and decades, nor am I trying to make a case that women cricketers should immediately – and at all costs — be given all that their male counterparts are receiving.

The point here is that the BCCI is rich enough to narrow the vast gap between the wages of the two genders — provided the thinking of its administrators changes, if it hasn’t so far, since the former president gave me a peep into his mind.

The BCCI’s 2018-19 balance sheet showed that it was worth a colossal Rs 14,489.80 crore. Obviously, there is no dearth of money; it has to be the mind-set, which must change.

As the Indian women’s team is set to embark on a tour of England in a few days, not much may have changed within the BCCI with regard to women cricketers. A sample of this can be had from the vast disparity in the annual retainership for male and female players announced recently.

The annual retainership/contract for players is just the latest example of the huge gulf between the pay scale of the male and female cricketers. A male cricketer in the A+ Grade receives Rs 7 crore, those in the A bracket get Rs 5 crore, cricketers in the B category receive Rs 3 crore, and cricketers in the C Grade get Rs 1 crore annually.

For women, there are only three grades, and the retainership amounts are Rs 50 lakh, Rs 30 lakh, and Rs 10 lakh. Yes, you read it right – Rs 50 lakh, Rs 30 lakh, and Rs 10 lakh.

The total amount the BCCI has earmarked for the 28 male cricketers for the 2020-21 annual retainership is Rs 96 crore, while the corresponding grand total for the 19 contracted women cricketers is a mere Rs 5.10 crore — a colossal difference of Rs 90.90 crore.

Similarly, there is a huge gulf in the match fees of Indian male and female cricketers.

Also, the women’s teams play much less international matches than the men’s team – therefore, much less income in terms of match fee. Imagine, the Indian women’s team last played a Test match in 2014. They will now play one in England.

Those who try to defend the vast disparity in payment often argue that women players don’t attract revenue via sponsorship and other endorsements, so they deserve less pay.

My counter is: Did the BCCI over the years and decades try to take women players (and administrators of the national women’s cricket body when they were a separate entity until 2006) into confidence and market their game along with men’s? Did they treat female cricketers at par with their male counterparts in many other respects? The answer is: No.

Had the BCCI administrators over the decades honestly planned about the betterment of the women’s game, they could have bundled the sponsorship deals, combining men’s and women’s cricket. That never happened.

The hard truth is that the BCCI extremely reluctantly merged the national women’s body, which was an independent body until 2006. The BCCI was one of the last national men’s boards to merge the women’s wing on the instructions of the International Cricket Council.

And then people with a certain mind-set have been ruling the BCCI since. Evidently, there are different yardsticks for men’s and women’s game.

Indian women cricketers, present and past, saw a ray of hope when Sourav Ganguly was elected BCCI president in October 2019. Former India captain Shanta Ramgaswamy was among those who saw light at the end of the tunnel.

“As Sourav is there as BCCI president and when he says that he wants to do something for first-class cricketers, I suppose he includes women players also. So, that’s a good sign. Hopefully, half of our work will be done. What we need to do, he himself is proposing. If it happens, it will be a shot in the arm for all women cricketers who slogged all their lives to help sustain this game,” Ramgaswamy, who is now in the BCCI apex council as a representative of the Indian Cricketers’ Association, had told me after the 2019 BCCI elections.

Alas, not much has happened since October 2019. Probably Ganguly alone can’t do anything without his colleagues changing their mind-set vis-a-vis Indian women’s cricket.