South Asian cricket, women’s football: when sport upsets the codes

The months of June and July will see two world cups evolve in parallel: that of cricket (from May 30 to July 14 in England) and that of women’s football (between June 7 and July 7 in France). If they are not the most publicized, these two events show the important changes that these two sports bring to their respective spheres of social influence.

A feminization of football

This World Cup seems to initiate several changes. First of all, probably under the effect of the 2018 and 2019 World Cup, the number of licensees has increased by 15% since last year according to the French Football Federation, bringing the number to almost 170,000.

This is still low compared to the 2.2 million male licensees, but shows real enthusiasm. The number of registrations in clubs has increased in ten years, and the number of women’s clubs has followed an upward trend: between 2011 and 2018 the number of women’s clubs rose from 3,000 to 5,000.

Bayern Munich supporters hold up the club’s motto, ‘Mia san mia’, during a match against FC Barcelona in the UEFA Women’s Cup semi-final, April 21, 2019.
Guenter Schiffmann / AFP

A change of representation

In addition, another area of ​​change, this World Cup will be broadcast in France on the TF1 and Canal + channels, which was not the case only ten years ago. The first results of ticket sales for this World Cup clearly show that the phenomenon is no longer anecdotal and that a change in the representation of this sport is taking place in a positive dynamic. Through this practice of football, traditionally the place of building a certain virility, work begins on the development of a new type of femininity, which legitimizes a shaking up of conventions.

However, this festive news should not mask the reality and the struggles still existing in this sport, in particular around equal pay.

Female players continue to earn much less than male players. Thus, Ada Hegerberg, the best player in the world, earns around 100 times less than Lionel Messi, the best player in the world. An inequality that she denounced by boycotting the current World Cup.

Ada Hegerberg, Ballon d’Or 2018, 23 years old has decided to boycott the World Cup to protest against pay inequalities.
Steffen Prößdorf / Wikimedia, CC BY-NC

Wage inequality singled out

This inequality of remuneration and also of means is decried all over the world. The latest episode took place in March in the United States, on Women’s Day, where the American players decided to sue the American football federation for institutionalized gender discrimination (fight already won in Norway where there is pay parity between the men’s and women’s national teams).

Strangely, in France, this debate is relatively absent. When it surfaces, it is to signal a lack of consideration of the Federation and vis-à-vis wage demands: so last year the players of Guingamp went on strike. These demands, however, seem little heard and relayed (even if all French women’s teams are not subject to the same regime).

So, although FIFA has doubled the prizes awarded to female players since the last World Cup ($ 30 million), the difference with the amounts awarded to male players ($ 440 million) is not neutral. On the other hand, the brands, they were not mistaken and seized the ball with the leap since Adidas announced that the women would receive the same performance bonus as the men. A good way to open up to a new flourishing market while challenging the establishment of established federations.

Is this the start of a transition?

Cricket and post-colonialism

If the tendency in football oscillates between the recognition of its feminization and its « Asianization » by the presence (even reduced) of India and China, cricket, for its part, has difficulty in externalizing itself outside the bosom of the old ones. British colonies (the 10 teams present having all been colonized by the British). Moreover, even if it knew how to reinvent itself outside the colonial framework, it struggles to feminize.

As psychologist Ashish Nandi and anthropologist Arjun Appadurai have shown in their work, this sport has truly “indigenized” throughout its history, to such an extent that Ashish Nandi wrote in 1989 that “cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English ”as this sport has been able to respond to the culture of the subcontinent.

Bearer of Victorian values ​​from the mid-19th centurye century as the fair play, the control of emotions, the valorization of the team on the individual, which contributed to found the essence of masculinity at the time, it became in the colonies an element of central socialization and diffusion of these same values .

In South Asia, cricket did not originally promote co-education, neither inter-colonial nor intra-national (the teams were often formed around religious communities) but rather early allowed the entry of popular classes which were accepted on condition of complete submission to the values ​​carried by the game.

Is cricket a religion in India? Here in Bangalore, a priest performs a ritual ahead of the World Cup which began on May 30, 2019.
Manjunath Kiran / AFP

Building a national feeling

Over time, it has helped to build a national sentiment in the vast majority of these countries for example by absorbing English cricket terminology, especially the structure of its names, into a variety of syntactic patterns. vernacular. This « indigenization » made it more accessible to the masses, notably through radio and then television.

Thus, in terms of audience, the Cricket World Cup attracted 1.5 billion people in 2015. Admittedly, the figures remain below the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but the India / Pakistan match of June 16 (in the group stage) could well break audience records like the previous match in 2015 which would have brought together a billion individuals.

Is the cricket pitch the only place Pakistan and India can get along? Here drummer Faheem Ashraf (Pakistan) and “goalkeeper” Mahendra Singh Dhoni (India) during the Asian Cup in Dubai, September 19, 2018.
Ishara S. Kodikara / AFP

In the current very tense geopolitical context between the two countries after the Indian strikes on Pakistani territory and the recent re-election of Narendra Modi as prime minister, there is no doubt that this match will revive nationalist feelings far beyond those of sport.

The Commonwealth on the Ground

Mainly worn by Indians, this sport is still struggling to interest other nations outside the Commonwealth.

The hypotheses put forward revolve around the duration of the matches (sometimes several days) making them hardly compatible with advertising schedules or television programs. However, the arrival of the T20 format in 2003 (a shortened format for matches) created a new audience for this format. Despite this large audience, few French brands seem to have realized the importance and impact of this event, apart from Veuve Clicquot (LVMH group) which will be one of the official partners of this World Cup.

Finally, cricket took a long time to become feminized, but the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup saw its audience triple to reach 180 million people (four times less than for the Women’s Football World Cup). But this trend also marks a small victory in South Asian nations where the condition and place of women are still battles that remain largely to be waged.

If we pay enough attention to them by looking at the strong signals they send us, these two sporting events should allow us to rethink new ways of reading world sport and bring the beginnings of a necessary decentring of the understanding of what form our representations.

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