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How cricket broadcasters can take a leaf out of FIFA’s books

Recently, in a firm directive, the FIFA has told the broadcasters of the Football World Cup 2019 to stop singling out 'hot women' from among the spectators to be shown on air.

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Cricket stumps, bat and ball
(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Recently, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has taken a major step towards curbing sexism being inter-mingled with the sporting culture. In a firm directive, the FIFA has told the broadcasters of the Football World Cup 2018 to stop singling out ‘hot women’ from among the spectators to be shown on air.

Now while this may seem to be very minuscule and rather insignificant in the larger scheme of things, rest assured, it’s not. In fact, this one step can help fight evils that are prevalent instead of being non-existent as they should be in our society – sexism and objectification of women. Is it time that the cricket broadcasters are meted out a similar treatment?

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The birth of cheer-leading

Interestingly, the concept of cheer-leading was first started back in the 1880s as an all-male pep club by the Princeton University. On 2nd November 1898, during a football game between Princeton and the University of Minnesota, to charge up U of M, who were on a losing streak, the first organised cheer to enthuse the team and the crowd was conducted by a medical student named Johnny Campbell. It was later in 1923 that women were drafted into the cheering routine by the University of Minnesota.

According to the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS), “As Crowd Leaders, the cheerleading team is the connection between the fans and the athletic team. The energy and enthusiasm produced by the crowd can rally a sports team to play better and boost overall morale. It is the cheerleading team’s task to unify the crowd in its efforts.” The five main responsibilities of a cheerleader are listed as “Crowd Leader, Spirit Raiser, Ambassador, Athlete and Entertainer.” However, with time the concept has trickled down to be only a pale shadow of its original robustness and the same is reflected at the international level of major sports like football and cricket.

What does the problem look like?

The situation is just as grim as football, if not worse, when it comes to cricket. From women at the stadiums being focused on unceremoniously owing to their appearance to blatant stereotyping of the female anchors and players of the sport, the problem is deep rooted in the psyche of the audience, and subsequently the broadcasters that cater to their needs. If we were to date back to a decade ago when the Indian Premier League (IPL) first kicked off, we’d be able to establish a rough timeline of this disturbing practice.

The IPL, in its baby years, was satiating to a cricket lover, no doubt. Apart from being rich in cricketing action, the tournament gave the viewers a taste of watching the best international cricketers all on the same platform and introduced them to the unexplored concept of a cricketing auction. However, they also brought on the concept of cheerleaders in the most jarring manner possible. Picture this: scantily clothed women are hoisted on a dais in a group, to gyrate to upbeat music. You expect to open your eyes and find yourself in a night-club. Instead, you’re actually sitting in on an IPL match!

The repercussions

This rampant and enraging objectification of women by dressing them enticingly germinated like an idea in an idle mind. Although the dress code for the IPL cheerleaders has been revised in recent years, the problem is anything but obliterated. To this day, cricket broadcasters choose to feature attractive women in the live feeds in an unceremonious manner. Not only does this fester the wound of sexism, but also adds fuel to female objectification.

Much like the harassment faced by the women during the ongoing Football World Cup in Russia where they were groped at and accosted in public while they were on air just for the perpetrator gaining screen time, the women watching cricket all around the globe have to face similar treatment. Alarmingly, five major cricket playing nations, namely, Australia, New Zealand, India, England and South Africa feature in a recent Wonderslist tabulation of of the “Top 10 countries with maximum rape crimes.” While the broadcasting is only a fragment of the causes behind this sickening statistics, it definitely is a part of it.

What makes it worse is the fact the unfair treatment towards women in cricket is not limited to the spectators. Female Indian cricket commentators like Mayanti Langer and Mandira Bedi have been cat-called online hundreds of thousands of time. Even cricketers aren’t spared with the likes of Smriti Mandhana and Sarah Taylor being branded as ‘hot and sexy’, rather than being appreciated for their sporting acumen. While no broadcaster has commented on who calls the shots on Langer’s dress choices during match coverage, seeing her abject discomfort is enough to make us acutely aware of the problem.

While men are allowed to wear crisp formals as is the most obvious choice on a cricketing field, female anchors have to parade in ridiculously short clothes and stilettos, the latter making it extremely difficult for them to walk on the grassy outfields. Often, these women are unfairly made the target of brutal memes for their outfits. As is understandable, making a woman’s bodily proportions and dressing choices the topic of discussion rather than lauding her for her work in nothing but a trickle-down effect of women objectification.

Is there any solution?

Major governing bodies of cricket like the International Cricketing Council (ICC) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) would do well to take a leaf out of FIFA’s books. The immediate step that can be taken is to work on the same lines as the FIFA, by instructing broadcasters to operate their camera to capture the crowds in a more holistic way. As a long-term approach, proper workshops to spread awareness about the possible harmful aftermath of the wrong approach may be conducted worldwide.

A sport, be it cricket or football, is nothing without the hard-working broadcasters who act as a medium between the viewers and the game itself. Thus, it’s only fair that such an important pillar of the each and every game embraces the societal responsibilities that it has and in the way, is supported by the major regulatory bodies of the games to be able to execute them in order to develop a well-rounded sporting culture around the globe.

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