Sexism in sport: Before disciplining Chris Gayle, cricket must teach players right from wrong

Chris Gayle has whipped up a storm the likes of which have seldom been experienced on Indian shores. The Caribbean buccaneer's penchant for being a bit too free with innuendos heavily laced with sexual overtones, particularly while interacting with women, has triggered an uproar in the media.

Much of his references to "blush", "cricket bat", "sandwich", etc have already been given wide coverage in the cricketing world and don't need repetition here. Whether these constitute workplace harassment warranting a police complaint is also an issue for the bosses to decide. But the fact remains that Gayle's alleged "excesses" in the distant lands of Australia and England have found resonance in India solely because the world is wired to the extent that certain things simply cannot be firewalled by geographical boundaries.

Chris Gayle had once posted a photo of a strip club installed in house on his Instagram account

Chris Gayle had once posted a photo of a strip club installed in house on his Instagram account

Nevertheless, the comment by BCCI vice-president and IPL commissioner Rajiv Shukla that the IPL, and by extension the BCCI, was contemplating action against Gayle for his remarks in Australia and England, is a bit too rich for digestion. Particularly as the board did not really whip itself into a frenzy when one of its state cricket association's office bearers was hit by allegations of  sexual harassment by a woman cricketer!

Gayle has his detractors but is also not wanting in support. His West Indies captain Darren Sammy said in a media interview that the 'Universe Boss' was being made a target in an effort to sell newspapers. "You have people coming to him and asking him those sorts of questions knowing what the answer will be," he said in defence of his teammate.

That hint of a set-up apart, it must be appreciated that the Aussie journalist who bore the brunt of Gayle's innuendos in full glare of live television carried herself pretty well during the incident. Of course, she must have been trained to handle challenging situations. On the other hand, what came through, during that episode and subsequently, was Gayle clearly demonstrating that he had not been sensitised to issues of harassment during his formative years.

Especially in Australia, sportspersons had been given to notoriously sleazy conduct before their sporting bodies stepped in to try and remedy it and at the same time, give their sport's image a makeover.

Cricket Australia followed the example set by Australian Rules Football, a massively popular sport in Australia and different from soccer, to try and cleanse the system of loutish behaviour. AFL's players had gained a terrible reputation and some of them had hit headlines for all the wrong reasons, including gang-rape, substance abuse, assault and a whole host of excesses, which would make Gayle's innuendos seem harmless in comparison.

Some of the scandals involving AFL players are listed below to show that their issues are far more complex than Gayle’s transgressions:

Melbourne Storm's star Matthew Johns was docked for participating in "group sex" after a match in Christchurch, New Zealand. The woman who complained said, "Every time I looked up there would be more and more people in the room and lots of guys in the room watching — maybe two or three on the bed that were doing stuff to me."

Another controversial player Sonny Bill Williams' most notorious scandal was when he was caught having sex in a toilet and the act was video graphed by witnesses who slipped a mobile phone under the cubicle.

Brendan Fevola, who had an extramarital affair with Australian cricketer Michael Clarke's ex-fiancé Lara Bingle, was another controversial AFL footballer. Among other things, he has been accused of stealing jackets, assaults, urinating on a window at a nightclub and flashing a woman.

Sydney Roosters player Mitchell Pearce was caught on tape simulating sexual intercourse with a dog at a party. But the most outrageous episode involved two footballers Dane Swan and Travis Cloke. They allegedly sent naked selfies to women, who were not their partners, and these photos found their way into a women's magazine!

Actually, the issue with cricket and most sportsmen is that they have not been trained in social mores outside their sport. Some time ago, Terry Coyne, one of Australia's best known organisational psychologists, whose organisation Personnel Decisions International, was tasked with cleansing AFL and subsequently Cricket Australia and other sports and arts like ballet and opera of the many issues hampering their image, was in India and in a chat outlined the holistic treatment required.

"The culture of attitude towards women had to be changed. We impressed that claiming a woman was provocative in dress or verse was not good enough. Most of the actual work went into the players well before they made the international grade. Australian cricketers of the past had a terrible reputation. But now you'll not find anyone behaving like some of his predecessors. And that's because of the work that has gone into streamlining the entire eco-system," he said.

He pointed out that CA was lucky that Malcom Speed was the CEO at the time they were engaged and that he was pretty savvy and pragmatic with the requirements for player development. "Speed's successor James Sutherland was from AFL and was exposed to our workshops even before he came to CA. So there was continuity and direction in our quest to develop young cricketers. Earlier, AFL teams at the junior level would pay huge sums of money to help youngsters bond better. This was a bad concept as teenagers would get drunk or pick up the wrong type of women. So, our work also involved changing the mindsets of the management," he added.

"Coaches hated us. But we not only got them around to our way of thinking but also trained them to look out for behavioural patterns and then decide which string to pull for whom. For this, intricate player profiling had to be done," Coyne said.

Thus, if Australia have come down hard at Gayle's innuendos, it must be understood that it is in continuation and confirmation with the eco-system that they are trying to put in place. They simply cannot allow a superstar like Gayle to walk in and disrupt what is an on-going process to set right problems dogging their outlook to sports and sportsmen.

Sammy's justification that Gayle after his heart surgery 11 years ago had decided "to enjoy every single day of his life from that day onwards" does not cut ice in the modern scenario.

But then, neither does Rajiv Shukla's comment that action on Gayle will be taken after the IPL. The board must first educate itself on the sort of eco-system it needs to put in place to face the challenges of the 21st century before venturing into disciplining all and sundry.

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Updated Date: May 27, 2016 11:50:13 IST

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