Gender equality has plagued our society for aeons and the arena of sports is no different. From body shaming to misogyny, women’s sports is rigged with profound sexism. Women are seen as physically weaker than men and hence are callously brushed aside. This attitude along with male dominance pervades the global sports community and women find it hard to gain equal footing with men. The ever present glass ceiling ensures that they go no more beyond a certain height, irrespective of their skills and achievements.
It goes without saying that sports is a male dominated field, in participation as well as governing ideas. Mithali Raj is named ‘Lady Tendulkar of Indian Women’s cricket’. Her impeccable sports performance is drawn parallel to that of a male cricketer and this merely reveals the male centredness and authority of sports. Women’s sports are just not taken seriously and are often treated just as a means to silence feminist voices.
A BBC Survey in India pointed out a common opinion that women’s sports weren’t as interesting as men’s. Nearly 42% of the respondents had felt so. Moreover, only 29% women said they played sports as opposed to a striking 42% among men. Even a simple experiment as asking ourselves to fire out names of 3 sportspersons will reveal the underlying sexism. Chances are, all three of them are male. Young girls growing up in such restrictive environments will never consider, with conviction, sports as a possible career. We close the doors for them beforehand.
As anticipated there is a striking gender gap in sports. Fewer women participate in sports when compared to men. The International Olympics Committee had felt that the gender inequality in sports owed not to low women participation but to the dearth of women in leadership roles. To substantiate, it is estimated that women make up only 18% of qualified coaches and 9% of senior coaches.
There is also the skewed assorting of masculine and feminine games. A lot of girls showing promise in boxing, wrestling or kabbadi are discouraged stating that these games are unsuitable for women. Instead, they are veered towards more ‘female friendly’ sports such as badminton and indoor games. It is merely a surfacing of our internalised conditioning that aggression and passion exhibited in sports do not cohere with normative femininity. The gender bias begins as early as in the screening process.
A recent study suggested that the coverage of women’s sports have become increasingly sexist over the last four years. Women sportspersons who have greater media visibility are expected to appeal to conventional standards of beauty which largely caters to the male gaze. The prowess and achievements of the sportsperson becomes only secondary. For instance, Jessica Ennis Hill an accomplished heptathlete is celebrated by media as a ‘golden girl’ exclusively for her modelling, looks and relationships. Even the field of sports is not exempt from women objectification.
Also, there is the omnipresent issue of gender pay gap. In India women cricketers earn only 7% of that of their male counterparts. Grade C male cricketers earn Rs. 1 crore annually while Grade A women players earn only Rs. 50 lakh. The average male professional football player earns around Rs. 65 lakhs while a female player is paid somewhere between Rs. 5 and 10 lakh. The difference in payment is more a chasm than a gap and is utterly disheartening.
Sports has been widely acknowledged as an activity that unites people across differences. Nelson Mandela said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” Moreover, he added “It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.” Sexism in sports brings shame to its glorious ability to expunge differences. It is its antithesis. Women in sports deserve much better and it is time to take affirmative action towards it.