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Women’s Cricket: Time to step out of their brothers’ shadow?

Which came first: the chicken or the egg? This old-as-an-omelette question is perfectly suited to prise open a long-lingering modern problem: of the gender pay gap. Are women paid less than men because they are less productive? Or are women less productive than men because they are paid less?

This problem, riddle, is more blatant in sports, sports being the ultimate beacon and working model of meritocracy — that is most gender-unequal in our faces, both in terms of investment and pay. Earlier this week, the announcement of annual central contracts for women cricketers by BCCI initiated a storm of opinions about how fair or unfair the remunerations for the female players were. For those who don’t know the numbers, a male cricketer in the top category gets Rs 7 crore a year, while the correspondent amount for a female cricketer is Rs 50 lakh — a whopping 93% less.

Those who found the gigantic pay gap between men and women cricketers fair have a very simple explanation (sic) to this complex issue — since the women’s team brings in less revenue, women cricketers are paid less. Those on the other side of the divide don’t want the focus to be on revenue generation because it’s not the players’ job to go out and secure sponsorship deals. They argue it should be about the level at which both sets of players are playing and their achievements. For one side, the market decides what one’s worth is. For the other, equality, both in terms of opportunity and treatment, is paramount. It’s clear that either side sees the gender pay gap differently.

But both sides are missing a point or two. It’s a fact out there for everyone to see that the Indian women’s cricket team doesn’t attract as many sponsorship deals as the men’s cricket team does. But it reflects badly on the cricket administration, not on women cricketers. They have done remarkably well in the limited opportunities they have got over the last few years. Since BCCI started giving annual central contracts to the women’s team in 2015, Indian women have reached two World Cup finals out of three (the 2017 50-over World Cup and the 2020 T20 World Cup). In comparison, their male counterparts haven’t reached a World Cup final since 2011, when they lifted the trophy. This comparison is not an attempt to prove that the women’s team is better than the men’s team. That would be downright silly. But it’s fair to ask if their success and achievements have been monetised efficiently.

The Indian women’s team played the T20 World Cup final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of a record-breaking crowd of 86,174 on March 8, 2020 — a good exhibition of fanfollowing that women’s cricket enjoys now. For their next international game, they had to wait for exactly a year when they faced South Africa at home in March 2021. Pandemic, you said? In the same period, Indian men played 22 international games (8 Tests, 6 ODIs and 8 T20Is), besides oneand-a-half season of IPL. The women played four exhibition matches last year. Since that glorious day in Melbourne, Indian women have p l ay e d a grand total of eight matches — three T20Is a n d five ODIs.

In t h e same period, New Zealand women have played the most — 18 matches (9 ODIs and 9 T20Is). Germany and Austria have played five T20Is each. It’s plain to see that the eagerness and creativity BCCI mandarins show in creating playing opportunities for men is often missing when it comes to women’s cricket. So how do you monetise something without putting it in front of the buyers — in this case, spectators? Can you say that a particular brand won’t sell simply because you haven’t been too keen to put it on the shelves? Sponsors aren’t going to invest their money in the talent that’s not allowed to perform.

The sponsored logo on Harmanpreet Kaur’s shirt or a sticker on Smriti Mandhana’s bat is valuable only when they are out there on the field, and their game is being broadcasted on millions of screens across the country and world. Equally undeniable is the fact that women’s cricket has improved, both in its on-field performance as well as rewards for the players, since the BCCI took it under its wings in 2006. From no central contracts in 2006 to Rs 15 lakh (for Grade A) in 2015 to Rs 50 lakh a year for Grade A players (Rs 30 lakh and Rs 10 lakh for Grade B and C respectively) in 2021 is certainly progress. Is it enough, though? There is definitely a lot of room for improvement. Maybe it’s time for the women’s cricket team to be treated as a separate entity from men’s cricket team — not outside the BCCI umbrella but within it.

Clubbing the two may have given BCCI a slightly better bargaining power when it sits down with the sponsors and broadcasters. But it also conceals the true value of women’s cricket. Unless you are not aware of the real worth of your product, how do you ask for the right price? Perhaps women’s cricket needs to be more than just an added responsibility for office bearers. It’s time for India’s Women in Blue to have a dedicated committee of experienced administrators and marketing professionals that will be responsible for creating more playing opportunities for them and monetising their successes. Like a younger sibling stepping out of the older’s shadow..

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