Why cricket must formally take a stand against sexual harassment

Sharda Ugra

First published in ESPNCrickinfo on July 17, 2018. (

A few days ago, an Indian newspaper published an article by Sarah Waris, a young woman sports journalist who had first highlighted a case of stalking, impersonation and harassment by a senior Indian cricket journalist on Facebook earlier in the month. Waris wrote in detail about how she had identified and called out her predator. It is understood she is not alone, and that there are nearly a dozen women sports journalists who have been stalked and harassed by the same individual. Official complaints made to cricket authorities by Waris and several other women journalists have been swiftly dealt with. The case has brought forth the required administrative action within cricket's global but small community. The formal process of the law may do what it is asked to do, if and when it is asked.

This, women in cricket will say to you, is how it should be. Consequences. Yet at the moment it is not how it is.

The growing presence of women in the sports media, rather than just creating a wider and more open work space, has also fostered an unsavoury underbelly. Like in the case of Chris Gayle's shoddy behaviour during an interview with news reporter Mel McLaughlin in January 2016. Gayle did not have his Big Bash League contract renewed after that incident, but to the rest of the world he is a freelance star, the Universe Boss, a man who has made sexism marketable in a #MeToo world.

I have been in cricket journalism for nearly three decades and find, to my great distress, that there has in no way been a reduction in cases of harassment, bullying and intimidation of young women in the sport. The growing footprint of television appears to have added to the subculture of low-intensity predatory behaviour.

While ‘growing up’ in the job, many women in the media regarded inappropriate language, and even actions, from men around them - including cricketers - as part of the ‘culture’ of the industry, which they would just have to get used to. In an unspoken alliance, women coped by warning each other about the lowlifes they needed to avoid. And then being grateful if they got through their twenties into an older age of confidence without any Weinstein-degree scars. But as the experience of Waris and the other girls in this latest instance show, repugnant behaviour can always find new forms.

Ever since Waris' Facebook post last week, I have been thinking of the men - colleagues, players, officials - I encountered as a rookie in my early twenties.

This was the 1990s. Alpha males roamed the jungles, stories of drunken hijinks abounded. I interviewed cricketers in their personal spaces - hotel rooms, bachelor apartments, and once in a dressing room where the player in question lay face down on a massage table, with a towel over his rear end. Whatever they thought of my agreeing to be there, they answered my questions. To me, these cricketers became representative of the working world I had just entered.

Maybe my memory has rose-tinted glasses on but at the time I thought at least the idea of professional boundaries and work spaces was understood at the very top of the game. For a young woman journalist entering the profession, which kind of player represents the game today? Universe Boss Gayle? He might be a ‘outlier’, an oddity, a one-off - (words used to describe him and the incident) but his actions were visible and in your face. He went on to become a successful "oddity", treated with affection by the game itself at large.

Whatever my experiences as a young journalist in the 1990s, it is not that other women in the field didn't talk about their stalker scenarios. There were numerous ants-in-the-pants bounders.

Like the player who would be all respectful in public and sleazy in private. Like the extra-considerate senior colleague who always focused his touchy-feely attentions on the newest female entrant in the press box.

Like the Indian Test cricketer who asked a female photographer why the newspaper she worked for - my first employer, Mid-Day - had only women in their sports department. "Is it for easy access?" Who then traumatised another newcomer by asking her to come to his hotel room for an interview. Not the lobby. And no, the photographer could take photographs at the ground the next day. And no, he wouldn't be giving her an interview at the ground. Only in the room. The girl stayed put in the office and dodged the bullet.

Maybe this is the best time for cricket to update its professional terms for its stakeholders. Deal with harassment and bullying the way better-governed businesses everywhere do. Make it non-negotiable, the way racism and corruption in sport are Then there was also another Indian Test player, who told another young woman reporter to move from one side of the dressing room entrance to the other. If she stood where she was, the sight of the men changing inside, he warned, would embarrass her. We remember every side of every story - who stood up for us, and who didn't.

I asked myself another question: in the 1990s, what if a male reporter had physically assaulted a woman colleague in the press box? Would he have been blackballed by the community? Or, as happened in Australia this decade, would he be let off with a warning and still be seated among his mates, bantering and gossiping like nothing had happened? I'm thinking of the men I shared press boxes with in the 1990s and what they might have done in the face of such a thing. Some, I believe, would have protested, some raised an almighty stink and maybe even extracted a profuse apology out of the offender. Then I think of some of the others and I say, no chance. Still, it's about 50-50.

What about the officials? For all of the BCCI's failings and foibles, the percentages I believe would have leaned heavily on the side of the wronged party. Far better, that is, than what my Australian colleague - the one at the receiving end of the assault above - had to go through in the second decade of the 21st century. I know, for example, that there is a journalist who has been "banned for life" from Indian press boxes for trying to solicit sex from a woman reporter in exchange for getting her an interview with an Indian Test player. This person may have been successful getting into a press box in another country recently, but it is highly unlikely that will happen again.

Cricket and its media industry wrestles with multiple incongruities. The women's game is now professional, embraced by the wider public. There are more women among the media, visible and vocal, than before. And still.

Could the anonymity provided by the internet, the lurking toxicity in social media, have brought us here? Is it to do with cricket television's normalisation of the leering male gaze? At a time when the voice of the woman commentator is now routine in the men's game, particularly in England, and there's one woman in every commentary team during the IPL. And still, from time to time an insidious sickness inside the game reveals itself, which can no longer be diagnosed as "lads will be lads".

Maybe this is the best time for cricket to update its professional terms for its (a beloved word) "stakeholders" to improve working conditions. Deal with harassment and bullying the way better-governed businesses everywhere do. Make it non-negotiable, the way racism and corruption in sport are. With proper grievance-redressal mechanisms and sanctions. Consequences, in clear terms. Which all the game's working professionals - players, officials, all manner of team staff, journalists, broadcasters - know will apply, because they are clearly laid out in the forms to be filled when applying for accreditation, or in the terms of contracts for player salaries or commentary duties or production rights.

To think of the activism against sexism and predatory behaviour as displaying the characteristics of politically correct nanny states is to be deaf to what women in the profession have been dealing with for years. As women in cricket we grow thick skins to stay in the game, but not so thick as to deaden empathy when younger women go through hell. We know that many men in the game feel the same way too. The way for cricket to respond is by altering the rules of our engagement. The way it worked for decades now cannot work anymore.

Sharda Ugra, among the earliest women in sports journalism in India, is senior editor,


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