Why is women's cricket not taking off in India?

Published: Wednesday, December 15, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Mysore:Indian men's desire for brides with fair skin undercuts efforts to promote women's cricket in India, a nation otherwise besotted with the sport, the captain of the national women's team says.

"Because of Indian men's concept of beauty, so many talented players do not take up cricket because it is a gruelling sport and you are out in the sun for at least seven to eight hours," skipper Mamta Maben told AFP.

It's tough for women like Maben to live in the shadow of the mighty men's game on the sub-continent. The women enjoy neither the limelight nor the money big sponsors have poured in to the male version of the sport.

Women's cricket in India took off in the mid-1970s and India hosted the 1997-98 women's World Cup cricket. Today they rank third in the world.

But only a handful of spectators turned up for a women's one-day match against Australia, the leading fair sex side, in this southern Indian tourist city at the weekend. And India lost.

In contrast, when Australia's all-conquering male heroes toured India in October, grounds where packed. South Africa followed and 50,000 turned out at Calcutta's Eden Gardens last month.

The Man of the Match generally receives a cash award of 50,000 rupees (1,086 dollars), while the best woman player during Saturday's match took home just 5,000 rupees.

"If you take men's cricket out, no other game exists in the country," concedes former Indian captain Shanta Rangaswamy.

Maben says Indian culture discourages women from taking part in sports.

"I think an Indian sportswoman's lifespan is very short ... because of pressures of marriage and the Indian male's concept of beauty," she said.

"Most of the Indian men want to have a bride with a fair skin," she said.

To this end, Indian's largest consumer company, Hindustan Lever, promotes a skin cream called Fair and Lovely with an advert of an aspiring female cricket broadcaster who gets a job after she uses the product to lighten her skin.

"In Australia sport is a culture. It is not the same over here. Women are not allowed to come out of their homes in villages. They are denied opportunity," the captain says.

She blames school authorities and the government for failing to encourage women to take part in sport.

Girls do not play cricket at school here and take more readily to traditional women's sports such as hockey, athletics and tennis.

But the game is played in the universities and national championships are held regularly.

"For us it is just the pride of playing for the country which is keeping us going. There is no monetary benefit here and we keep pushing ourselves. Few people do that. When you come to the crossroads and it is a career option most women opt out," Maben says.

Belinda Clark, the Australian captain, agrees that Indian sportswomen face more challenges than her own compatriots.

"At home women's sport does not generally get the media attention or interest. But at the same time I think in our culture women have an equal opportunity. It is not unusual to play tennis or rugby or cricket in Australia," Clark explains.

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