Understanding the Lesser Coverage and Attention for Women’s Sports

I don’t follow cricket. But from the posts of many friends on social media, I guess that Indian women’s cricket team has recently defeated Pakistan in some tournament. The most coverage about this event has been in terms of how it did has not got sufficient coverage or attention as a game between the men’s teams of these two rival countries would have attracted. While personally I don’t enjoy watching either men or women play cricket, this case is of interest to be me because it exemplifies what is wrong with this misguided concept of equality in our society. Understanding the lesser coverage and attention for women’s sports and how our society cannot accept it will thus throw light on a bigger underlying issue.
As a first step, it is interesting to see the content of most posts on Indian women’s cricket team’s victory. An effort to give more publicity to this uncelebrated victory, the wish that women’s team will also get to share the limelight equally with their male counterparts, and a concern that this is not happening right now, is the common theme of these posts. If it had been celebration of the Indian men’s team’s victory, the focus would be on who batted or bowled well and on other dynamics of the match. In case of the women’s cricket, even those who have this idea of promoting don’t bother with these details which a real fan would care about.
If they themselves have no genuine interest in the game and how these women play, how do they expect others to have that interest, and why expect the media to cover something nobody has any real interest in? Such an artificially fanned interest will last only till this gust of activism dies down. Enthusiasm for cricket (men’s cricket, that is) in India, on the other hand, has survived many trials, challenges and scandals, including activism targeted against it, because at the end of day, a large number of Indians still enjoy watching their heroes play on the field.
There is a clear difference in skill between men and women when it comes to playing cricket. The reason for the huge following for this game in India has partly to do with how well men have played this game so far and charmed the viewers of the sport. Now that the game has become popular, it is the demand that women playing the game should also get an equal share of the glory that is unfair. We live in an unequal world, with people who have unequal talent and commitment. To impose equality over them would not be fair to those who are less than equal, but unfair to those who have fought their way to be more than equal.
If there are those who want to watch and promote women’s cricket, and they do what they want, I have nothing against them. But what I don’t like is their trying to trace it to some hatred or disdain that society has towards women. This just cannot be farther from the truth. In most sports, men have greater following, get paid more and attract a higher level of popularity and attention for the simple reason that they are better at it than women. This is the reason why we have to have separate events for men and women. In such sports, any demand for equality or equal coverage is only a joke until the women’s national teams can win against at least local men’s clubs. Not that they have to or will ever be able to, but it is important to not blame it on patriarchy or “regressive” mindset. If anything is to be blamed, let it be biology – for endowing men and women with so different abilities. To prove my point, we consider two examples below.
First, consider professional boxing (men’s boxing, as goes without saying), with its several weight categories from flyweight (~50 kg) to heavyweight (above 90 kg or so). The reason we have so many (over 10) weight categories in this range is because a 5 kg difference in weight will make a great difference in boxing ability of two more or less equally skilled fighters. It would be very difficult for any fighter to beat a fighter at the same level (national or international) from a weight category significantly above his. Of course, there are exceptions, but they are quite rare. For the same reason, champions in higher weight category earn more money, respect and fan following because it is generally accepted that they can beat their lighter counterparts. Even those who don’t know anything about boxing will have heard about heavyweight champions like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, because they are among the acclaimed best in the field and have done the most to attract the world to this sport. There are more exceptions here, but they arise from the skill and ferocity of those individual boxers in these lighter weight categories and not from the feeling that we should be “fair” to all weight categories and promote them equally.
Now, let’s look at a sport for which women are more suited than men. If in this case women get more attention and following, I hope it will at least partly show that the following for men’s or women’s team in a sport has more to do with who does better. Gymnastics, I believe, is a good example. Though this sport requires strength, speed and other attributes, flexibility is one key element in which women are more gifted than men. So it is usually impossible for a man to perform all the stunts performed by a woman gymnast (the design of the event is also thus different for men and women). Without following the sport, I can name a women or two in gymnastics, but don’t remember hearing the name of a male gymnast. Isn’t that much like I being able to name a few male cricketers but not a single woman.
If we may expand our study beyond the strict boundaries of sports, one simple question should serve to expose the misguided indignation and outrage over the lesser popularity of women’s sports. How many Mr India or Mr Universe winners have you heard of, and compare that with the number of Miss India or Miss Universe winners you can recognize. Which even to you see more extensively covered on television and in the papers? To me, this is simply because there are viewers for men on the field and women on the ramp. No media conspiracy or underworld forces at play here.
To return to the bigger problem in our society that was mentioned at the beginning of the discussion, it is this notion that we have to somehow ensure equality of outcome. Enforcing equality of outcome is unfair to those who strive harder for a better outcome. If somebody claims that both men and women should be allowed to play cricket (or pursue science), that is fair enough – but to insist that since men and women are equal, they should both have equal number of victories playing against each other (or an equal number of Nobel prizes) is to impose an artificial and unsustainable idea of equality on an inherently unequal landscape.
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