Before you jump in, take a second and think of five pivotal moments in women’s cricket in your opinion, and five female cricketing legends. Anything? Okay, maybe take a minute. If you don’t know by now, perhaps you never will. I bet if I had asked you to do the same for “Indian cricket”, often used to describe men’s cricket, picking just five would seem like a daunting task.
Earlier this week, as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced a hiked match fee for male and female domestic players, the pay disparity between the two genders quickly became a talking point. The senior women cricketers are reportedly paid around Rs 20,000 per day — equivalent to the wage paid to an Under-19 male counterpart.
An Under-23 male cricketer will get INR 25,000 per day for playing domestic cricket in India. But a senior women cricketer will get only INR 20,000, which is what an Under-19 (male) will earn per day.
— Venkata Krishna B (@venkatatweets) September 20, 2021
The BCCI had announced the annual player contracts of the women cricketers in May this year. The pay categories looked like this: Category A (Rs 50 lakh), Category B (Rs 30 lakh) and Category C (Rs 10 lakh). A month before this, the Board had announced the contracts for male cricketers. In their case, there are four categories, instead of three, with players in the topmost category ‘A+’ earning Rs 7 crore (excluding the match fees). The other categories included ‘A’ (Rs 5 crore), ‘B’ (Rs 3 crore) and ‘C’ (Rs 1 crore). Even the players from the lowest-ranked category for men cricketers were paid Rs 50 lakh more than those who were a part of women’s highest paying slab.
To put things into perspective, Virat Kohli, ODI and Test skipper for men’s cricket, is seated in the prime category ‘A+’, earning Rs 7 crore while his female counterpart Mithali Raj gets Rs 30 lakh (category ‘B’). Although the women’s T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur is in a superior paying slab (category ‘A’), she still stands nowhere close in comparison with Kohli. The pay disparity between men and women cricketers is no new revelation, but the striking contrast in their wages reflects on how BCCI sees the value of women cricket’s.
Fans and cricket experts alike have been debating this for a long time but revising salaries may not be as easy as it looks. This issue is not specific to cricket, but most sports across the globe. Pitting women’s cricket against men’s may appear like a fool’s errand at the time, because comparing the two is simply not practical, at the moment. We are too focused on what should happen rather than what needs to be done to get there.
In an ideal world, meritocracy would be enough for any athlete or team, irrespective of gender, to be judged and rewarded accordingly. But cricket is no longer just a game in India. Over the years, it has also become an entertainment and high-revenue generating event. Hence, women’s cricket will need to play by the “rules of the game” to bridge the gap between them and men’s cricket.
Also Read: With online channels like Hotstar, is women’s cricket finally getting its due in India?
BCCI needs to do better
Imagine, if instead of announcing MS Dhoni as the mentor for the men’s cricket team before the T20 World Cup, the BCCI had named him as the adviser for the women’s side. He could have been the trump card in turning the future of the game around like Rahul Dravid was with the men’s Under-19 side. India’s performance in the recent Test series has been a good case in point.
Having a cricketing icon whose fame still resonates with fans would play a catalytic role in making women’s cricket popular.
As former Indian cricketer, Snehal Pradhan said, “Wins create visibility. Visibility creates value. Value translates into revenue.” The BCCI needs to aggressively amp up the number of domestic and international matches for female players. Also, all matches played across age groups and levels should be ticketed. The idea of scheduling most women’s matches around the same time as that of men also needs a re-jig as that leaves the audience with a difficult choice.
In a country where people worship cricketing idols, women’s cricket is an untapped resource waiting to be discovered by the BCCI.
Also Read: What can women’s cricket do to enjoy the popularity of men’s cricket?
Marketing is key for women’s cricket
A regular male Indian cricketer playing at the international level, on average, would typically have endorsements and match fees besides his salary, which differs based on seniority, as their steady source of income.
This is not to take away from the talent and hard work of the male athletes. Juggling the increased demands of the evolving game as a professional athlete is no mean feat.
But it is also crucial to recognise the role marketing has played in the development of a player. The richest cricket board in the world needs to invest sustainably. It needs to come up with a decadal project for its women cricketers, in terms of their branding, endorsements and advertising. They must be highlighted as icons and be pushed into popular entertainment along the lines of the Indian Premier League.
Tennis could serve as a fitting inspiration for the BCCI in this case. Female tennis players are, perhaps, the only women athletes to earn the same as their male contemporaries. The four major Grand Slams — Australian, French, US and Wimbledon — men and women have taken equal prize money since 2007.
Things may work differently for a team sport, but then again, the BCCI does have a flourishing record of doing it with men’s cricket.
Also Read: It’s time for a women’s IPL — it’ll grow the game and churn out talented, ‘ready’ players
An alternate reality
Those who may have doubts over any of these suggestions cited above should look at the journey of the United States women’s soccer team.
According to audited financial reports from the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), as reported in The Wall Street Journal, the women’s soccer team surpassed the earnings of their male counterparts in 2019. Not to mention their phenomenal run at the World Cup. The women’s national team has won four World Cup titles and Olympic gold medals so far.
Despite bringing in more Even this striking difference in the revenue in 2019, their generation does not reflect in their salaries in contrast remained below par compared to the men’s national team. In 2019, the women’s national squad had filed a class-action lawsuit against the USSF over the pay disparity between both the team players.
The women’s team found support from several quarters of society including the now vice-president Kamala Harris, who advocated for equal pay for both squads.
The court dismissed the case in 2020, highlighting the different nature of agreements laid out for both genders. While women are guaranteed pay, regardless of whether they play or not, men are only paid when they play matches, the judge cited while delivering the judgment.
Besides skipper Megan Rapinoe, Joe Biden expressed his displeasure against the verdict at the time and demanded that the USSF either equalise pay or go “elsewhere” for World Cup funding once he became the President.
Finally, on 14 September 2021, the USSF announced that it had offered the women and men’s players association identical contract proposals, “with the goal of aligning the men’s and women’s senior national teams under a single collective bargaining agreement (CBA) structure.” It offered “a single pay structure for both senior national teams.” It also urged both the associations to join the Federation in advocating for equal prize money at the FIFA World Cup.
If, by now, you are wondering about what can be done unless the cricket board or people responsible do something about it, you might be forgetting the most crucial stakeholder in this whole dynamic — you, the spectator. Cricket is what it is in our country because there is a huge fan base from all walks of life.
We need to emulate how we, Indians, rose to the occasion when our women’s hockey team needed our support in the 2020 Summer Games. In my living memory, the wholesome interest and participation by the people in hockey and the Olympic games were the rarest of the rare moments for a sport other than cricket.
If you have stuck around so far, make a mental note to support the women’s team by simply attending and watching their matches. The more you’d engage, the better the numbers (revenue and TRPs) would be — a critical factor when it comes to the allocation of resources and money. The spectators are not an anomaly in this case, rather a crucial contributor to the future of the game. If you haven’t watched anything till now, it would be a good time to tune into India vs Australia 3rd ODI today, and you might remember a name or two by the end of it.
Views are personal.