“Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, too.”
— Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who led the charge for pay equality in her sport, at the 1970 Italian Open
We are now in 2020. Exactly 50 years later. The Board for Control of Cricket in India pays the top Indian women’s cricket player lesser than a male cricketer with the lowest-level Grade C contract (see the tables below). And for some reason, the women seem to think the crumbs are what they deserve.
Annual player retainership - Senior men
|Period||Grade A+||Grade A||Grade B||Grade C|
|Oct 2019 to Sept 2020||Rs 7 crore||Rs 5 crore||Rs 3 crore||Rs 1 crore|
Annual player retainership - Senior Women
|Period||Grade A||Grade B||Grade C|
|October 2019 to Sept 2020||Rs 50 lakhs||Rs 30 lakhs||Rs 10 lakhs|
In a press conference on Wednesday, top Indian woman cricketer Smriti Mandhana spoke about the equal pay issue:
“We need to understand that the revenue we get is through men’s cricket. The day women’s cricket starts earning revenue, I will be the first person to say that we need the same thing. But right now, we can’t say that. I don’t think any of my teammates are thinking about this [pay] gap because the only focus right now is to win matches for India, get the crowd coming in and earn revenues. That what we are aiming for, and if that happens, everything else will fall in place. And for that, we need to perform. It is unfair on our part to say that we need to be paid as much as the men – it is not right. So, I don’t think I want to comment on that gap.”
The line Mandhana took is very much the line the BCCI would have wanted her to take. It is the line that is designed to hail the BCCI’s wisdom and thank them for their benevolence. But it is also the line that would have shocked Billie Jean King, Serena Williams, the US women’s soccer team, the Australian women’s cricket team and other sportswomen who have taken the fight for equal pay to the establishment.
It is not an easy fight and it takes time to come to fruition. In 1973, King threatened to sit out the US Open unless the prize money was made equal. She took a stand and it worked. That year, the men’s and women’s champions were paid equally. But it wasn’t until 2007 that all four of the major Grand Slam tennis tournaments awarded men and women equal prize money.
But for that to happen for Indian women’s cricket, Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, Harmanpreet Kaur, and others need to speak up. And they need to speak without fear of backlash.
One of the reasons the 2017 pay deal reached between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association worked was because the players, both men and women, were united.
The deal was then lauded as the biggest pay rise in the history of women’s sport in Australia. Female player payments will increase from $7.5 million to $55.2 million by the end of the five-year deal.
Of course, the Australian cricketers could have just said that the women don’t bring in the revenue so why should they get more. But that’s not how it works. That’s not how it should work.
“The men and women have been rewarded for sticking together and for having the courage of their convictions,” the then ACA president Greg Dyer had said in a statement. “They have made history and created a legacy for generations of players to come.”
If women’s cricket doesn’t generate as much revenue as men’s cricket, as Mandhana pointed out, then that is partly due to two reasons. Firstly, the BCCI doesn’t treat women’s cricket by the same yardstick that it applies to men’s cricket – not all games are tweeted, some not even broadcast in the past, the scorecards go missing at times and they aren’t quite marketed in the same way either. Secondly, up until recently, the women’s team wasn’t even playing enough games in a year.
India Men (1932-2019) — 540 matches, 157 wins, 165 lost
India Women (1976-2014) — 36 matches, 5 won, 6 lost
India Men (1974-2020) — 984 matches, 513 wins, 421 lost
India Women (1978 to 2019) — 272 matches, 151 wins, 116 losses
India Men (2006-2020) — 129 matches, 80 wins, 44 losses
India Women (2006-2019) — 113 matches, 61 wins, 50 losses
Yes, Indian women get paid better than players in many other countries but then, the men get paid better than players in most countries too. For Mandhana to say they deserve less when they do exactly the same job as the male counterparts is self-defeating at many levels.
However, it is also important to note that while the Australian women’s team has an Australian Cricketers Association to fight for them, the Indian women’s team has no such association to shield it from the BCCI.
In July 2019, the Board approved the Indian Cricketers’ Association but said that the body will be restricted to only former players - both men and women - unlike player associations in other major international countries, which include current players too.
It is all rather convenient for the BCCI as dealing with individual cricketers is much easier than dealing with a body. But perhaps this is also where current president Sourav Ganguly, once a cricketer himself, needs to truly step up.
In October 2019, Cricket Australia said it would top up the prize money for the Aussie women’s team for the 2020 T20 World Cup to ensure parity with the men’s winnings. Do the women bring in as much revenue as the men? They don’t. So why is Cricket Australia doing this? They are doing this because their hand was forced by the cricketers.
Mandhana needs to realise that her job isn’t to generate revenue. That is the BCCI’s job. Her job is to go out and play for the country and she does that very well. And the BCCI should know (or be reminded if need be) that she deserves better. Indeed, as King once said it’s alright to want ‘the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, too’.