In Sport, Gender Equality is an elusive goal.

In Sport, Gender Equality is an elusive goal.

 

– Jitendra Nath Misra

 

Jitendra Nath Misra is a former ambassador and vice-president of Jawaharlal Nehru Hockey Tournament Society.

Observing sport has many takeaways. One of them is gender discrimination. Sports meritocrats usually argue that sport is for all to see, and thus gender- blind. Sport is a concrete activity, with a victor and loser, and the performance speaks for itself, they assert.

Are things that simple? It would appear not. How does one evaluate gender discrimination when the contestants are of the same gender? Here, merit becomes the sole basis to evaluate performance. But when we consider how the male and female genders, and even the third gender, are treated differently, issues of discrimination crop up.

Consider the larger world beyond sport. The benchmarks we use to judge the male and female, such as in the workplace, are different. It is the same in sport. Female sportsmen have always struggled for the recognition their male counterparts get. Hockey amply illustrates this.

Just weeks ago, the Indian women’s hockey team returned from Kakamigahara after pulling off a stunning Asia Cup victory, with wins over higher- ranked China and Japan. But the games were neither telecast nor streamed. Hockey- lovers were denied seeing the creation of a small history.

This victory was stellar, winning India’s women’s team qualification for the 2018 World Cup. Dhols and dances greeted the women on arrival in India, but there was little immediate information on the actual play. The public responded momentarily to a famous victory but missed the twists and turns in getting there.

Contrast this with the live telecast, prominent media coverage and live blogs of the Hockey Men’s Asia Cup at Dhaka a few weeks earlier. As the highest- ranked team in the continent, the men were expected to win the Asia Cup, and they did. One can’t quarrel with the men becoming heroes, but the women deserved it more because they had achieved the unexpected.

Going further back, the media celebration of the gold medal victory of the Indian women in the 2013 Hockey World League Round Two was muted. At the 2013 Hockey World League semi-finals, the women finished 7th, almost on par with the men, who finished 6th. Yet, the media focused on the men’s game.

As women square up to men in human endeavour, we are witnessing fence- mending, political correctness, and even genuine change.

Cam Vale, Chief Executive Officer of Hockey Australia, said: “Whether you’re a Kookaburra or a Hockeyroo when it comes to basic terms and principles in how we remunerate our athletes it’s exactly the same.”

The International Hockey Federation reserves forty percent of management jobs for women. On its committees, the male-female ratio is almost equal. Leandro Negre, the former president and President of Honour of the FIH, proudly told me how these steps were taken to make hockey forward-looking.

In India, two male and one female hockey player received identical cash awards from Hockey India in 2016, for a hundred appearances for India. The Haryana government gives the same cash prizes to male and female hockey players from the state.

In upholding equal rights, Europe remains ahead of the rest. Cultural attitudes being more liberal, women have more space for self- development. In the 2014 Hockey World Cup in The Hague, the stadiums were full for both men’s and women’s games.

Success on the field also drives curiosity to draw in spectators. Britain’s international hockey player Ashley Jackson points out how the British women’s hockey team has earned television coverage and sponsorship after winning the Olympics gold medal.

But discrimination continues. In India, hockey players land jobs in public companies, but only the Railways take female players. Savita Punia, the hero of the Asia Cup finals, complained the other day that the promise of a job has not been fulfilled even after nine years.

Sometimes, the market calculation is the spoiler. In Europe, men’s hockey is richer because spectators prefer watching men, drawing in sponsors, says Marijke Fleuren, president of the European Hockey Federation.

In India, during the 2012 Delhi Hockey World League Round Two, the stands were empty, whereas spectators attended the Olympics qualifying tournament for men in large numbers. This might explain why Hockey India failed to launch a league for women.

Even in liberal Europe, female hockey players sometimes pay to play: “ Some of the girls in the British team still pay a £5 match fee to play on a Saturday, which seems a bit crazy,” says Maddie Hinch, Britain’s star goalkeeper.

Formal gender equality makes discrimination hard to see. But a more authentic equal opportunity model requires a change in cultural attitudes. Only then can we assuage the hurt of female athletes.

 

 

 

 

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