It’s time now for sports to stop seeing gender
Ironic as it may sound, I have found that competitive sport is a great equaliser in Bangladesh, in terms of entertainment. Back when the internet was not as handy as it is now, if you were out and about during a Bangladesh versus so-and-so cricket match, you could ask just about anyone on the street what the latest score was. The image of a crowd gathered in front of an electronics showroom, watching the same match on the wall of multiple screens, will always be enticingly romantic. But when it comes to overcoming the patriarchal system ingrained in our culture, even sports fail on that account. And Bangladesh's spotless victory at the 2022 SAFF Women's Championship in Kathmandu on September 19 has brought this reality to the fore.
The fact that women's and men's sports teams in Bangladesh receive vastly different treatment, and never in favour of the former, is no news. As per the Bangladesh Cricket Board's (BCB) own unabashed data, on average, a female cricket player receives a monthly salary of Tk 40,000, in contrast to the Tk 3 lakh paycheque her male counterpart enjoys. For One Day International (ODI) matches, a female cricketer receives an average of less than Tk 9,000 per match, while a male cricketer can expect to get around Tk 3 lakh for each match. Meanwhile, a top male player in club football receives a salary of Tk 50-60 lakh per year, while his female counterpart gets Tk 4 lakh at most.
Why this blatant discrepancy? The answers to this question are many. Some say women's teams don't do as well as men's teams (though the present reality should suffice to disprove this argument). Others opine that, because women's sports don't garner nearly as many viewers as men's sports, they also cannot attract enough sponsors to support them. Many also point out the discriminatory role of organisations such as the BCB and the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) in neglecting female players to favour male ones. But these are all symptoms of the core disease that is misogyny.
Inhuman and unprofessional as it is, those who are in charge of sports in Bangladesh value women less than men – just as the society they have come out of. And we need to build on the momentum created by the Bangladesh women's football team's win to address and cure this misogyny that has been normalised.
Besides monetarily, our women players have historically faced neglect in many other ways. The same scale of training is never imparted to them as what is provided to their male counterparts. Women players are deprived of the bare minimum of decent transportation, quality sportswear and, not to mention, respect.
Post Monday's win, the ever-resolute coach of the Bangladesh team, Golam Rabbani Choton, shared with the media how his own peers would belittle him by calling him "mohila coach," as if that is somehow derogatory. Former national striker Suinu Pru Marma told The Daily Star how this victory veiled many tales of hard work and sorrow. How some players of the current team "did not have enough to afford the bus fare to Dhaka." And how "some even struggled to get meals once a day."
While we may be inclined to romanticise such struggles – so as to amplify the Bangladeshi women's victory – this should not be the standard of living a winning national team is afforded.
It is cruel, to say the least, that female sportspeople in Bangladesh – and elsewhere – have to prove themselves "worthy" of the support that their male counterparts can take for granted. It is outright unfair how women players are sidelined by all, citing their losses, when our male players can lose matches and tarnish the image of Bangladesh on the global stage using their antics, and still receive support in all forms.
In recent years, the world has finally begun to acknowledge and address the gender-based pay gap that exists in sports. Notably, in Brazilian football, in New Zealand cricket, and in US football, female and male players are now paid the same amounts of salary and match fees. Revolutionary though this is, we must not treat it as a blessing bestowed upon female players. This should be the norm, after all, that women and men get paid equally for expending the same effort and dedication for their sports.
But no matter, perhaps this historic win by the Bangladeshi footballers will cure sporting federations, boards, sponsors, and the media of their gender-seeing ailment. After all, if our women have been able to clinch such a victory with what little they were given, one can only imagine how many more titles they will win us when their country stops setting them up for failure.
Afia Jahin is a member of the Editorial team at The Daily Star.