Women in sports: What Lala might not know

Published: March 20, 2014
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Pakistan's women cricket team. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Male chauvinism bases itself primarily on the assumption that physical exertion is something beyond women; hence, the strong aversion to women’s sports, as though women are not entitled to the sort of exercise and recreation they may desire. PHOTO: AFP Pakistan's women cricket team. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

A friend of mine shared a clip on Facebook of a journalist asking Shahid Afridi his views on the development of a girls’ cricket camp in Peshawar (something the journalist said he felt proud of) and Afridi replied that Pathan girls are best at cooking food and should stick to that. This statement did not come as a shock to me.

Other than being aware of Afridi’s record of having passed ludicrous remarks about us, Indian Hindus, not being large-hearted enough, which was slammed by many rational Pakistanis, it reminded me of a scene from the Bollywood movie Chak de India starring Shahrukh Khan. It showed officials from India’s hockey federation talking of the quintessential Bhartiya nari (Indian woman) being fit to cook but not being fit to compete in sports tournaments at the international level.

Other movies portraying similar challenges a girl has to face in an Indian social framework are Dil Bole Hadippa and Bend It Like Beckham, in the context of cricket and football respectively. And indeed, these movies mirror the social reality, not only in India but other countries in South Asia too, and to an extent, across the globe.

Male chauvinism bases itself primarily on the assumption that physical exertion (even if not mental exertion) is something beyond women; hence, the strong aversion to women’s sports, as though women are not entitled to the sort of exercise and recreation they may desire. And it is this male chauvinism that makes men think that crimes against women are justified.

As psychologist Chris Kilmartin points out,

“The worst thing we say to a boy in sports is that he throws ‘like a girl’. We teach boys to disrespect the feminine and disrespect women. That’s the cultural undercurrent of rape.”

Afridi claims that this interview was five months old, that the concerned excerpt was taken out of context and that he has been a great supporter of women’s cricket, a claim testified by some female Pakistani cricket stars. If he has genuinely rendered help to female cricketers, it is indeed appreciable.

In any case, the focal point of this article is not Afridi; it’s actually gender discrimination in the field of sport, and we’ve seen other such sexist comments too.

In December 2013, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish football team captain, defended the discrimination meted out by their football association. They awarded a brand new Volvo to male midfielder Anders Svensson for breaking a record, but not one to female midfielder Therese Sjogran, who had broken a similar record.

Therese Sjogran, after scoring Sweden’s first goal against Australia to help secure a semi-final berth during the Women’s World Cup 2011. Photo: AFP

Len Hutton, a great English male cricketer of the 1940s and 1950s, once said,

“Ladies playing cricket is like a man trying to knit.”

In the early 20th century United States, a journalist wrote about the female athlete Mildred Didrikson saying,

“It would be much better if she and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring.”

Mildred Didrikson

However, when Didrikson, who was accomplished in just about every sport – basketball, track, golf, baseball, tennis, swimming, diving, boxing, volleyball, handball, bowling, billiards, skating and cycling – was asked if there was anything she didn’t play, her reply was clear,

“Yeah, dolls!”

At the outset, let me state some facts that would make those who endorse the views attributed to Afridi’s feel uncomfortable.

Elysse Perry, an Australian cricketer and footballer, represents her country in both sports and played Sydney grade men’s cricket and even took a few wickets in the match she played.

Elysse Perry. Photo: Reuters

In 2010, the Baroda Cricket Association pitted its senior women’s team against under-14 boys’ teams in the under-14 DK Gaekwad Tournament for the first time and in the first match, the girls played against the under-14 boys’ team of the Kiran More International Cricket Academy, where the girls emerged victorious.

In fact, they won three of the six matches they played in the tournament. It’s true that the boys were much younger, but still, many male chauvinists would find this hard to believe.

An interesting fact is that, in the first such match, the girls’ team included Taslim Shaikh, daughter of Mehendi Shaikh, coach of the famous Indian male cricketers, the Pathan brothers – Irfan and Yusuf. The captain of the girls’ team was Tarannum Pathan, another Pathan hailing from the same Indian province of Gujarat where Irfan and Yusuf hail from.

Tarannum Pathan

Again, in 2012, the under-19 girls’ team managed to win four of the six matches against the boys’ teams, missing the semi-final only by a whisker.

Then, there’s Laleh Seddigh from Iran, a female car racer who has been a national champion competing against men and is known as the ‘Schumacher of the East’. Danica Patrick, from the United States, came fourth at a Las Vegas speedway event competing against men. Alisha Abdullah in India, has excelled at both car-racing and bike-racing, competing with men.

Alisha Abdullah (L), Danica Patrick (C), Laleh Seddigh (R)

Also, many women, including a 73-year-old Japanese national, have even climbed Mount Everest.

In the context of Pakistan, it may well be relevant to point out examples from Islamic history, like Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) wife Hazrat Ayesha (RA), who was a direct participant of the war and Hazrat Nusaybah bint Ka’ab (RA), a woman who fought in Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) army. The Prophet (PBUH) believed that children (he did not specify only boys) must be taught archery, horse-riding and swimming.

Muslim warrior-queens like Razia Sultan and Chand Bibi remain etched in the historical memory of our subcontinent, as do their Hindu counterparts like Rani Lakshmibai and Rani Durgavati. It was certainly heartening for me to read these write-ups about women being inducted in the Pakistan Air Force and about the first female paratroopers in Pakistan.

Indeed, I am fully cognisant of the fact that Pakistan has produced several legendary female sportspersons, including Kiran Baluch in the context of cricket.

Kiran Baluch

As a female sportsperson, Lucy Smith points out,

“Women, like me, who are athletic and who like to wear mascara off the playing field, are just that; women who like sports among a whole host of other passions. I also like reading and writing and cooking and looking after my kids.”

An interesting fact in this connection is that Mithali Raj, captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, has been an accomplished classical dancer and she maintains that dance too was something she enjoyed very much.

Mithali Raj. Photo: AFP

As female Pakistani cricketer Roha Nadeem mentions,

“As a beginner, I felt under-confident at times. I was constantly doubting my place in the team and questioning, if I was able to play up to their expectations. But they had always been motivating and encouraging.

‘Do you play as well as men?’

‘Doesn’t playing cricket make you look masculine?’

These are some of the most frequently asked questions that I encounter, when I tell people I am a female cricketer. They seem pretty amazed at the idea of ‘female cricketers’ and their level of amazement is doubled when they realise that I don’t adorn the ‘tomboy’ look that majority of female athletes do.

A major misinterpretation people hold about female cricketers is that they lose their feminine charm. I usually get that as well, as to how can I carry my ‘girly’ looks and play cricket at the same time? To which, I have no answers. I reckon it’s all about how one carries oneself.

On a lighter note, female cricketers can be good-looking too.”

If we are to ensure that women enjoy rights at par with men, then sport is an area that we need to focus on. As a United Nations document states,

“The relationship between gender equality and sport is not solely about achieving equality in women’s participation and treatment within sports, but it is also about promoting ‘sport for gender equality’, or harnessing the potential of sport for social empowerment of women and girls.”

This can be very well substantiated by a statement made by Susan B Anthony, an American suffragist, back in 1896,

“Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.”

This would mean more media coverage to women’s sports teams rather than only individual sports for the glamour quotient (sadly, when the Women’s Cricket World Cup was hosted in India last year, it hardly got much media attention), equal prize money for men and women’s championships and most importantly, equality of access to sports infrastructure, which may even require legislative intervention, as Title IX in the United States has amply demonstrated.

Quite late in the day, India’s sports ministry came out with a National Sports Bill that, among other things, addressed the issue of gender, and Pakistan could do well to follow suit.

Advertisements by the government promoting women’s sports, dispelling the myth of their adverse effect on reproductive health and chapters in school textbooks about leading female sportspersons would also be initiatives in the right direction.

Karmanye Thadani

Karmanye Thadani

A lawyer by qualification, he is a freelance writer based in New Delhi, India. He formerly worked as a research associate in a leading Delhi-based public policy think-tank, the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), where he did research on primary education in India. While in high school, with a friend, he invented an eco-friendly, medically safe cleansing agent that was selected to be presented at the national level in the Intel Science Fair. He tweets as @KarmanyeThadan1 (twitter.com/KarmanyeThadan1)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Waqar Qureshi

    Actual mistake of Afridi: He gave this poor nation few moments of happiness and unity and every pseudo desi liberal starting ranting on his monthss old video.Recommend

  • Nazr

    Shahid Afridi is a religious Muslim besides a cricket player for the national team of a Muslim country. What a religious Muslim says about Muslim women should not be a Hindu’s cup of tea. No offence. But there is a world of difference between the opinions of Muslims and Hindus. Recommend

  • Khadija

    If I’m brutally honest I as a woman find spoets to be a man world just like I find fashion to be a more feminine job. I wouldn’t play sports tbh but I know that me as a woman in general working as a doctor would get on the nerves of shahid afridi and the 90% of pakistani men like him only because I’m a woman and my place is the ‘home’ although my home is beautiful and I am also raising three children correctly and with no help from the husband and am fulfilling my role as a wife and mother fully 100% but it would agitate them nevertheless like most of these so called religious commentators. And shahid afridi should be careful , he shut up the journalist from asking him questions but as a world renowned sportsman he can be questioned from international reports and then he will obviously change his opinion and be all women rights activist, these are the type of hypocrites the country is filled with. Although I agree a woman makes a better chef than a sports person so why don’t we give all these restaurants in Pakistan to women although all are owned by men ? His main point is women can’t be anything except a wife and a mother and when we get in to the whole Islamic debate of this and although as a religious person born in to a religious family my mother instilled the desire for his daughters to also have successful careers as long as family life is not affected and priority…I’d just like to say no nation can run with more than 50% of its population doing nothing-that includes the working clas rural women who work in farms providing shahid afridi and the likes of him food everyday ! The attitude will not go away-because although shahid will dismiss it as just sportswoman, this mysogynistic is deep
    Rooted and means any women who steps out that front door to earn a living! Anyway a good article and for all these women as long as your hearts to
    It and you love what u do and it doesn’t conflict with anything , then I wish u all best of luck :) ignore men like shahid Recommend

  • Rangoonwala

    Well, if a well known sportsman makes ridiculous statements,
    specially if he is a, so called idol [ridiculous] of young kids,..imagine
    the effect on young girls that they just belong in the kitchen. Young boys
    emulating these sexist concepts.Recommend

  • Shariff

    Shows a typical rural-tribal mindset, lock your women inside the house but feel at liberty with others.Recommend

  • Cosmo

    Doesnt matter how old it is, a sexist idea should always be condemed, Recommend

  • Kanwal

    He is not indipensible. Pakistan is teeming with cricket talent. We dont need such chauvinists in the team trying to give the so called happiness. His “few moments” dont entitle him to this at all. I hope these oldies leave soon and make place for some new, educated talent some day. Recommend

  • ovais

    Cant he have an opinion which is similar to 80 percent pakistani men. The extremist have ak 47s, liberals have media. We the common man have no channel, only afridi talked what we all know is the thinking of a common pakistani men. So please start living out of ur elite bubble ETRecommend

  • baig

    Yes I agree you are very logical and to the point here. very accurate.Recommend

  • Cosmo

    Shame on you for condoning such a backward idea. seriously, SHAME on you and those 80% Pakistanis who think the way u do.Recommend

  • Jasman

    Nice work Karmanye. Never thought I’d be reading your blog in a pakistani newspaper of all the places.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    Thanks, Jasman.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    Thanks for the appreciation, Khadija. Your name reflects the same spirit of an empowered woman that can be attributed to the woman you are named after, Prophet Muhammad’s wife, a successful businesswoman.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    To be honest, Kanwal, I think penalizing him by expelling him from the team for exercising his right to free speech would be unfair. Of course, anyone can criticize his views, as I have done in the article.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    Ovais, I never said he is not entitled to his opinion. Others who have a different opinion equally have a right to criticize his opinion. No one is saying that he or others with such views should be denied the right to freedom of speech and expression, at least not me.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    Agreed.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    Well, he is entitled to his sexist views, if any. That young boys would emulate them would be unfortunate in your opinion as well as mine, but there should be no compulsion on anyone to articulate politically correct opinions. Those in disagreement are equally free to express their contrary point of view, as I have done in the article.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    But I do know several religious Muslims who share my opinion. You may think that their interpretation of Islam is wrong, which is fine. And if you believe that no non-Muslim should take interest in Islam, then that defeats the purpose of spreading Islamic values, if not Islam as a denominational religion. Everyone is entitled to an opinion of other faiths and cultures and to express the same. Yes, I personally believe that a hurtful, insensitive or blatantly prejudiced position is inappropriate (though even such positions have a right to be expressed), but I have nowhere adopted an anti-Islamic tone. I have also clearly been critical of my Indian society on this front in the article.Recommend

  • hassan

    People like Orya Jaan and Ansar Abbassi are representing people like you in the media.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    True.Recommend

  • Dante

    For heaven’s sake, forgive the guy already. He’s been a subject of “condemnation” by hundreds of ET blog articles (ok I exaggerated). Not that any of these ET articles matter in the least bit.

    Afridi is entitled to his opinions regarding women’s sports. Whatever happened to liberals crying their hearts out at entitlement to freedom of speech?

    I totally disagree with Afridi’s statement. But I still hold respect for him.Recommend

  • Waqar Qureshi

    Dear Karmanye a pleasant surprise to know you. You are quite different than those who normally write, always “right”, imposing themselves on others leaving no room for disagreement. People like you will better the impression of India in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Why is it not his ‘cup of tea’ to have an opinion? Can a person not have thoughts or the ability to write about something aside of his/her own religion/country/nationality? And for the record, there are plenty of Muslims who agree with the writer’s sentiments, myself included. Instead of getting mildly defensive, accept that other religions and nationalities may have a valid opinion about this and it may very well be among the more sensible opinions.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    Too many people in our subcontinent (and I am including even Sri Lanka, Bangladesh etc. in this) are very intolerant of dissenting views and have deep rooted biases. We need to change that if we are to move forward. Thanks.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    As the author of the article we are commenting on, I must point out that I TOTALLY agree with you on the point of Afridi’s right to freedom of speech and expression, as you can also see from my replies to earlier comments. I don’t even think he has committed any wrong, for which we need to “forgive” him. But likewise, we have every right to express our disagreement, even disgust, at what he said. I am glad you don’t share Afridi’s views.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    Thank you so much.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Only seeing this now. Most welcome!Recommend

  • Rama2012

    The situation is no different even when it comes to mind games. Bobby Fischer, one of the all time greats in Chess, once boasted that he could beat any women grandmaster in chess at knight odds i.e. offering to play with one piece down at the start of a game. The then world women champion from Russia, Nona Gaprandashvilli, accepted his challenge, but Fischer developed cold feet and withdrew quietly. Garry Kasparov, another all time great chess champ, made a disparaging comment about Polgar sisters (all three of them champion chess players in their right): ‘trained dogs’. Judith Polgar the youngest and the highest rated women chess player, beat many great chess players like Anand, Kasparov, Karpov in tournament games. In fact, Judith, hardly plays in any women’s events, she plays exclusively in major men’s chess tourneys. She was among the top 10 chess players for some time.Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    Interesting. :)Recommend

  • Karmanye Thadani

    I’m glad the women in green are getting more attention now.Recommend