Blushing much? Chris Gayle flirting with McLaughlin triggers much-needed discussion of sexism in cricket - Firstpost
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Blushing much? Chris Gayle flirting with McLaughlin triggers much-needed discussion of sexism in cricket

It’s no surprise that even after the outrage, condemnation and $7,000 fine, Chris Gayle still doesn’t get why his comments to Ten broadcaster Mel McLaughlin are unacceptable. Cricket remains largely an old boys club and women in the game are seen as afterthoughts, if they are seen at all.

If you haven't seen it already, the video of the McLaughlin interview is a cringe-worthy example of how tone deaf men can be. Gayle later defended his comments – he asked McLaughlin out for a drink and said “don’t blush, baby” – claiming they were nothing but a “simple joke” and “not meant to be disrespectful."

Chris Gayle. AFP

Chris Gayle. AFP

But the question Gayle needs to ask himself is how could they not be disrespectful when she was doing her job but he was treating her like an object? Would Gayle, even as a joke, have said the same thing to a male reporter? The answer is he never has, which means he felt entitled to joke because McLaughlin was a woman.

That’s the dictionary definition of sexism.

The wider problem is cricket is littered with sexism. The BCCI, for example, currently has 24 committees. Women are part of three of them and two of those are the women’s selection committee and the women’s committee. The only "neutral" committee with a woman on it is the “New Area Development Committee” (whatever that is), which has one woman on it surrounded by seven men.

There is no place for a woman on the board’s Working Committee or the Media Committee or even the National Cricket Academy, which presumably is not only for male cricketers.

The Indian Premier League is perhaps the prime example of institutionalised sexism in India. Teams employ female cheerleaders to entertain the audience of mostly men while on television, the men are the experts and the women mostly eye-candy.

Here is Sharda Ugra writing in The Hindu back in 2013:

"On Planet IPL this season, there are two broad categories of women on our screens.

"The first are the Respectables — the team owners, the players’ wives/girlfriends, family members. Then there’s the other lot — the PlayThings. They are served up to the community of commentators in the SonyMax studio and on the field as occasional eye-candy and the source of much adolescent giggling and sniggering. The Playthings include the on-field cheerleaders, studio-dancers and the ‘colour’ girls — the two female reporters — chosen very deliberately not for their cricket nous but their youthful appearance. The young women change every few hours, the male ‘colour’ presenter/reporters endure."

A more public recent example of this inherent sexism was the allocation of matches for the World T20 in India in March, and, sad to say, the coverage of it. Chennai, the headquarters of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, and home of now disgraced former BCCI president N Srinivasan, was allotted only women’s games, none of which would be televised. This was widely reported as a sign of the shift in power now that Srinivasan had lost his hold on the BCCI. He was being put in his place by the withholding of lucrative men’s matches.

The Bangalore Mirror reported that the TNCA was considering refusing the matches before deciding otherwise. In a text message to the paper, a TNCA official said: “We've had a meeting and have decided to show to the world that we're not cry-babies.” Which is to say, they have accepted that their punishment is women playing cricket in their stadium.

India’s women cricketers have tried for years to gain the ear of the BCCI, which until 2015, did not even provide contracts for women players. In a 2013 interview with ESPNcricinfo, former India captain Diana Edulji slammed the board, saying they were killing women’s cricket.

“I would say it is an insult to women's cricket to be treated this way. There is no cricket. Domestic cricket comprises only one T20 tournament and one 50-over tournament. There are no longer-format matches and no Test matches. I cannot understand why we cannot play one Test match at least during a bilateral series. If Australia and England can play the Ashes, why can't India play Tests?”

No wonder the Lodha Committee insisted on at least one female member of the Apex Council of the BCCI in their revolutionary report on cricket in India. It won’t fix the problem - it is at best a bandaid on a gunshot wound - but it is at least a step in the right direction.

While some reactions to the interview praised Gayle – the official Ten Twitter handle tweeted it out with the caption “smooth” before later deleting the tweet - the good news is his comments have come in for the opprobrium they rightly deserve.

Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland said Tuesday that “those comments are completely out of line. It's not a nightclub — it's actually a workplace, it's Chris Gayle's workplace and it's Mel McLaughlin's workplace and those comments border on harassment and are inappropriate for cricket and inappropriate for the workplace.”

And Anthony Everard, the head of the BBL, said the comments were "disrespectful and simply inappropriate” and that "there's just no place in the BBL, or for that matter cricket anywhere, for that sort of behavior."

Of course, there has never been place for that sort of behaviour in cricket but that’s never stopped anyone before. Hopefully the reaction to Gayle’s comments means that the ball is finally starting to swing the other way and we can start to have a much needed conversation about sexism in cricket.

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