BATTING FOR EQUAL PAY IN INDIAN CRICKET- IS IT TIME?
Updated: Jul 2
This post has been authored by Mr. Rohit Krishna.
Rohit Krishna is a third-year student of the B.B.A L.L.B course at the prestigious O.P Jindal Global University (JGU) and a research intern at the JGU centre for Sports Law, Business and Governance. He is extremely passionate about Sports Law and plans to pursue a noteworthy career in the same.
Since its inception, cricket as a sport has not performed well when it comes to equality. While the domination of the ‘Big 3’ countries in the revenue model is based on commercial lines, the stark gender-based pay gap is an unfortunate reality. According to the current BCCI contracts, a grade ‘C’ male cricketer, who is at the lowest in the pay rung makes twice as much money as the highest-paid grade ‘A’ female cricketer. The situation gets more appalling when one looks at domestic cricket where players do not even have contracts. However, the top female cricketers themselves believe this is justified and what they deserve at the moment. Indian opener Smriti Mandana speaking on the pay disparity said that it was an unfair ask as the men’s game generated much more revenue. While the BCCI might be content with this statement, the underlying rationale and presumptions could not be more flawed.
DOES THE REVENUE ARGUMENT HOLD?
The most common argument cited against equal pay is that the women’s game does not garner the same level of viewership or attract sponsors to generate as much revenue as the men’s game. While this statement is factually true, it is inherently flawed as the burden of attracting sponsors and revenue is not on the players (whose job is to win games), but on the BCCI, which is running the sport. If women’s cricket is not generating enough revenue today, it is because the BCCI which is the richest cricketing body has not invested in it commercially like it has done with the men’s game. The poor quality of infrastructure and lack of investment at the grassroots level/domestic cricket ensures that the sport can only be a part-time profession for aspiring women cricketers, a majority of whom do not even have access to quality equipment and training facilities. The women’s matches both at the international and domestic level are broadcasted ineffectively and the marketing is next to nothing. One may view the solution as a simple economic reaction. If the BCCI invests in a fixed investment cycle plan for the betterment of women’s cricket, more female athletes will consider it as a viable full-time profession, which will increase the number and quality of players, leading to more victories. This in turn will attract more sponsors and the revenue would thereafter be generated. Unless affirmative action is taken, the status quo of inequality will only be perpetuated. Recently, Cricket Australia increased the base pay of its female cricketers to match their male counterparts and even increased the prize money of the 2020 T20 world cup to ensure pay parity. Do the Australian women generate the same revenue as their male cricketers? No. But the board’s hand was forced, as both the men and women’s teams stood together in their beliefs. After the 2017 MOU between the Australian cricketers Association and their board for revenue sharing, Australia has been dominating the sport and also has the best-paid female athletes in their country.
WHAT ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE IN SKILL AND COMPETITION?
Recently, the United States Soccer Federation while defending a court case filed by the women’s national team seeking pay parity, argued that there is no legal standing for the claim as the women players do not have the same skill or strength as the men, whose sport also presents tougher competition. Firstly, the use of speed and strength as determinative criteria for pay is biased. Imagine a world where the roles were reversed and females were the historically dominant gender, and the men were subsequently trying to enter the game. They would be categorized as too strong, inflexible, or lacking in finesse, and this would be used to justify paying men less. Secondly, the effort it takes to win has no correlation to the pay that women deserve. Nobody criticizes the validity of a world-cup winning cricket team’s title on a few ‘easy’ group-stages matches they had or if key players were missing from their opponent’s teams. The playing field is what it is and if someone performs at the highest level in their sport, they deserve top-level pay as recognition. Cricket could perhaps learn from tennis where the likes of Billie Jean King and Serena Williams led the fight for pay equality. Much like grand slams, an ICC World Cup can be held simultaneously for both genders, where the matches and the titles are valued for what they are, indifferent to gender.
WHAT STEPS CAN THE BCCI TAKE?
In a recent report titled An Equal Hue: The Way Forward for the Women in Blue, the distinguished authors suggest the immediate implementation of annual retainers by state associations, with BCCI setting the minimum amount to improve domestic cricket (as also marked in the BCCI President’s agenda) and contracts with a commitment to equal base pay, thereby eliminating gender discrimination. The BCCI needs to organize a lot more women’s matches as the men’s team plays significantly more games compared to their counterparts. There also needs to be a shift towards equality in prize money in domestic leagues and international tournaments to enhance the profile of these events, travel allowances and match fees, and commitment towards investing in the women’s games in terms of infrastructure and skill development, leading to more viewership. With their matches breaking broadcasting records and the Indian team reaching two finals out of the last three ICC events, media rights need to be redistributed to give women’s cricket a larger share. There is also enough talent in the country to have a women’s IPL with a greater number of teams, as a full-fledged season and not as a mere tokenistic event, with a few teams playing over a weekend. The Women’s IPL can be coordinated with the existing men’s franchises, sharing their branding, organizational facilities, and benefits, fan loyalty, etc. following the successful model of the Women’s Big Bash League. This will not only help players by giving them the platform to compete against the best overseas players but also help bridge the significant quality gap existing between the international and domestic circuits. Above all, it is most important that the administrators and public treat women’s cricket as a different category, viewing it without any subjective bias and not constantly comparing it to the men’s team.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to one principle viz. fairness. The systemic discrimination can only be stopped by providing women’s cricket the foundation to exercise its talent and not treat it as ‘CSR’. This in turn could lead to enhanced revenues as well as a more robust business model for all stakeholders, growing the game to newer heights. It is time that BCCI walks the talk and fixes this appalling pay gap.
The author can be reached for comments on his email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cite as: Rohit Krishna, Batting for Equal Pay in Indian Cricket- Is it time?, Extra-Cover: The Sports Law Blog of India (1st July 2021), Accessed at https://www.extra-cover.org/post/batting-for-equal-pay-in-indian-cricket-is-it-time [Date of Access].