The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

Ashoka Premier League: The Gender Gap Challenge in Sports

Devika Jamkhedkar, Class of 2021

The Ashoka Premier League 4.0 is here. A highly anticipated and exciting tradition, there seems little to talk about action packed days of huddling, cheering and shooting. On closer look, one might compare the blossoming APL to modern professional football, wherein players are ranked, organised and sold according to their merit. Given that APL was designed as a dual gender league from its conception, it is relevant to examine the gender dynamic that prevails. The current APL has 22 women amidst over 100 men. Further, the highest price for a male player went up to 70 million while the highest price for a female player went up to a small fraction of that amount, 18 million. After an article by Sanchit Bansal last APL analysed how ‘Inclusivity does not mean validity’, the massive participation difference raises questions about women’s general standing in the sports sphere, be it the private or professional realm.

Source: APL Facebook Page

Sports ‘culture’ is a tricky concept to concretise. Given that sport bears different connotations in different countries and cultures, it is difficult to determine exactly what might motivate or derail a female player from advancing in a particular field. However, it is certain that sport, like any other integral feature of society is faced with gendered expectations, challenges and norms. A sporting culture, or love and pursuit of a specific sport is thought to be a massive influence. In a world where pay gaps, gender disparities, and prejudice operate, women tend to face a drought of sporting culture of their own.

The notion of a ‘girls’ or a ‘boys’ sport is considered ridiculous in the professional sphere, but a gendered upbringing often festers in one’s childhood. In India, heavy emphasis is placed on the intrinsic physical differences between men and women, often discouraging girls from organised contact sports. Girls are also commonly dissuaded for the fear of injury or simply ‘getting too browned in the sun.’ This is in hopes to instil a delicate femininity, associated with fragility and restraint. A dearth of girls on a field during a game influences conservative parents to brand it as unsuitable, or even ‘unsafe’, as a respondent put it. This shows how this works almost cyclically- fewer women on the field further dissuade other prospective women players. All factors considered, certain sports grow increasingly male-dominated from childhood, creating a premature ‘gender-play-gap.’

Schools, clubs and other local institutions often draw from a sexist mindset. As reported by The Conversation, this involves restricting  P.E activities, access to fields and equipment and, limited tournaments. This is often facilitated by schools to accommodate for boys. ‘Girls and boys had different timings and different activities in P.E., like football and swimming,’ said a respondent. ‘But the boys were somehow allowed by the teachers to play whatever and whenever they liked. Whenever they demanded the football field, we had to give it up for them.’ Another respondent remembers how her prestigious international school allowed and approved of only boys to become sports captains. Such incidents are minute in comparison to regressive schools in rural Haryana that forbid girls from participating in inter-school sports. On whatever degree it is practiced, when sexism is arbitrary and accepted it paves way for institutional inequality.

An unfortunate consequence of such discrimination is that it breeds a lukewarm sports culture among women inter-school, varsity, and regional players. In India, sports committees like NWR are notorious for abruptly cancelling women’s events on the pretext of little participation, while doing nothing to promote them. The absence of washrooms or functional accommodation for women reflect a callous indifference towards their participation. “We didn’t even have a changing room”, said a former player, who recalls facing leering and harassment by authorities at the event. “We really didn’t wanna go back the next year.” A combination of social prejudice, stunted opportunities and general hardships faced due a woman’s gender is enough to create a not-so-rosy perception of sports.

Women in professional sports too face barriers, battling grave disparities with the men. There is staggering gender pay gap across diverse sports. France earned £29 million ($38 million) as prize money from FIFA for winning the World Cup in 2018, but the four times US women’s champions this July will earn just £3 million ($4 million). Stranger still, is that 2015 world cup winning manager Jill Ellis was paid less than the US Men’s National Team Under 20 manager in 2017-18. Other wearisome problems include low viewership, lack of sponsors and inefficient marketing. A 2017 statistic revealed that only 7% of all women’s sports received coverage.This poor awareness make women’s sports an obscure niche, denying thriving athletes the media representation they rightfully embody- A chance to be role models for young female aspirants.

A common argument for the disparity in sports is that women are simply not profitable enough to warrant equality. While the numbers are climbing, women’s sports barely excite the level of media coverage, fan following or match sales as men. However, this argument falls though when the root of gender inequality is none other than its cause. “And so we find ourselves in a vicious circle”, says former England Rugby captain Catherine Spence. “Sponsorship depends on TV coverage; the TV stations say they don’t show women’s sport because it doesn’t receive the audiences; and the audiences ask how they’re supposed to watch women’s sport when nobody will broadcast it. This cyclical invisibility is a cruel result of centuries of restrictions on female participation, social perceptions, a starved following and, sexism on and off the pitch. Be it equality in P.E sessions or giving women their own Tour de France, women’s sport needs significant promotion to create a flourishing culture, that will set a precedent for increased participation and enthusiasm.

The Ashoka Premier League’s policy to ensure a female player on the pitch at all times, is a sensitive step towards bridging deeply entrenched inequality. Nonetheless, it is ideal to strive for conditions that might see an equal number of men and women on the pitch, playing to proportionate excitement and cheer.  The need of the hour is to reform attitudes that bar women’s participation, and ensure equal opportunity and acceptance, cultivating a ‘craze’ that feeds itself.

Note- The names of the sources have been changed to maintain anonymity

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