A particularly distasteful remark by cricketer Harbhajan Singh, one of the commentators for the India-Australia match at the ICC World Cup 2023 finals, has caused a lot of outrage, and rightly so.
As the camera panned on Anushka Sharma and Athiya Shetty (actors and wives of Virat Kohli and KL Rahul, respectively), Harbhajan could be heard saying in Hindi, "I am wondering whether they are talking about films or cricket because I am not sure how much they understand cricket."
People on social media have been calling Harbhajan out on this. Take a look at some of the reactions:
Why Do Women's Interest In Sports Always Grab Eyeballs?
First, it is a blatantly sexist remark. Both Anushka and Athiya have successful acting careers and it is very wrong to assume that their knowledge is just limited to movies. "I am not very sure how much they understand cricket" - Harbhajan, have you ever had a conversation with either of them before making such a sweeping generalisation?
Harbhajan isn't the first person to be harbouring these thoughts. Women's interest in sports has always led to unnecessary attention. "Wow you like football, cricket, tennis!" - more often than not, people are caught by surprise when a woman displays her knowledge about sports.
Sports has been considered a "male domain" for the longest time, and despite women acing in a lot of them and consistently trying to change the narrative, such mindsets make their journeys even more difficult.
How Much Do People Know About The Women's Cricket Team?
The Indian women's cricket team has made the country proud on numerous occasions. But till very recently, most people did not even know much about the players or their achievements. Though the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has, of late, taken several steps to give the team the attention it deserves, gender bias prevents women from getting the same recognition as their male counterparts.
In 2022, the BCCI finally ended the long-existing ‘pay parity’ debate by announcing that all its women and men cricketers falling under the central contract will be financially acknowledged without any bias. Welcoming the decision and speaking about moving past gender stereotypes former cricketer Mithali Raj had said in an interview,
"Sports should not be gender biased, irrespective of whatever the game one is playing. Everyone should get an equal opportunity to take a go and excel in their career."
Now, Harbhajan's remark takes us back in time and reinforces why the "men in blue" have always been hailed as heroes.
Why Weren't The Same Comments Directed to Shah Rukh Or Ranveer?
The statement insinuated that just because Anushka and Athiya are actors they lack knowledge in sports. Women in film industries have been the target of vile, misogynistic retorts for years. It's almost assumed that they aren't well-versed when it comes to politics, sports or other affairs that are predominantly considered areas for "men".
During the commentary, why didn't similar thoughts occur about Shah Rukh Khan, Ranveer Singh, Ayushmann Khurrana and other male celebrities who were present at the stadium?
When the men from the film industry participate in sports, back teams or put out elaborate social media posts praising the teams they support, they are cheered on. We expect a similar support for the women too.
Anushka, Athiya and other partners of sportspeople face the worst attacks from trolls when there are unfavourable results. They are blamed for their partners' failures, they are called "distractions" and they even receive the vilest of threats. We do not need such comments to add to their miseries, when all they have done is consistently show up for their spouses and support them through their good and bad times.
Cricket Commentary Broadcast Live Should be Sensitive
Last, but not the least, a commentary that is being watched by people across the world should be sensitive, not thoughtless. Harbhajan, you have a considerable following on social media and such remarks can be damaging for you as well as the people they are directed at. Sports, especially cricket in our country, brings people together and we must celebrate all that the sportsmanship spirit embodies.