Cricket has a problem. That problem is not unique to the sport, or even sport itself – nevertheless there are social behaviors and structures which facilitate and exacerbate the problem, working to ensure not just a lack of accountability, but a marked unwillingness to even address its existence. That problem is sexual harassment. A phrase so often repeated in the last 18 months that even the female human rights lawyers amongst us are almost sick of talking about it. Almost.
Cricket’s ‘Me Too’ moment has not yet come. Most of us working within the sport were interested to see whether the allegations made against the BCCI CEO, Rahul Johri, would ignite a broader conversation that would nourish the socio-legal discourse around the topics of consent, harassment and gender dynamics within society, particularly in the context of sport. Dialogue of this nature has begun to permeate various sports, ranging from those considered as ’Traditionally Masculine™’ such as soccer and UFC, to sports which have more progressive gender politics, such as tennis. To consider tennis, the sport obsessed with the outfits women wear (or more accurately, obsessed with what Serena Williams wears) as a sport with more progressive gender politics is indicative of the shit show cricket now finds itself in.
Of course, cricket, for all its evocation of being the ‘gentleman’s game, ’ has never been immune from scandal. However, its framing has always been thus; as a sex scandal. Tuffers and Warne have sold more than a cricketer’s share of tabloids, and stayed relevant long passed their sporting sell-by-dates thanks to Elizabeth Hurley, sex workers, and a long-standing insistence that whilst cricket may not be sexy, scandal certainly is. But the historical bad behavior and failure to confront sectoral and structural issues within the industry is no longer the current issue, but rather the historical foundations for our 2019 reactions in an evolving socio-political environment.
In the past 6 months, there have been a flurry of events sitting somewhere within the range of sexual misconduct. Initial accusations which received scant international attention were statements made by an airline steward and an Indian playback singer regarding alleged behaviors of Arjuna Ranatunga and Lasith Malinga, followed by probably the most significant accusations (yes, plural), made against Rahul Johri. The Committee of Administrator’s 3 member panel-probe investigating the multiple allegations returned the oddest of findings which was publicized as a ‘clean chit,’ despite clear politicization – naturally following the principle that one cannot be a judge in their own cause, any such proceedings should have been (genuinely) independently investigated and determined.
One of the members of the panel, Barkha Singh, gave a particularly concerning statement at 93, which I reproduce verbatim:
I would like to place on record that in my nine years of tenure as “Chairperson of Delhi Commission for Women”, I have come across many incidents and supported the cause of a women. It becomes our duty for providing equal opportunity for woman at work place. In my opinion, such kind of motivated and fabricated allegations will diminish the status of women and the job opportunity for them. Such complaints will also have an adverse effect on the fight for equality for women.
There’s a lot of lessons in this quotation – firstly, the commissioner’s past experiences in gender equality are used to give credibility to her finding that the present allegations, made by multiple women across different industries during Johri’s diverse employment history, are ‘fabricated.’ Secondly – any ally which immediately turns to ‘false allegations’ as a shield, alleging that they ‘will diminish the status of women and the job opportunity for them is not an ally, nor should be publicly recognized as one. False allegations are estimated to run from approximately 2-8% of all rape allegations (studies range across states’ crime data). Further studies indicate that of those unfounded allegations, approximately 2.7% result in charges being filed (not prosecution or conviction, merely filing of charges which may yet be dropped). The number of rape allegations in total that make it to prosecution are just under 10% of those reported to the police and approximately 1/3 of those which are prosecuted result in a conviction. In short, of the list of things which ‘have an adverse effect on the fight for equality for women,’ false rape allegations are far lower on the list of significance than, say, bisphenol A in tinned food which messes with women’s endocrine health.
In addition to Singh’s statements, another member of the panel, Veena Gowra, stated that Johri’s conduct was ‘unprofessional and inappropriate which would adversely affect’ the BCCI’s reputation. She further stated that in view of his conduct and ‘with respect to the photographs submitted, it is essential that Mr. Johri undergo some form of gender sensitivity counseling/training.’
If it rings somewhat absurd to you that the findings of a 3 person panel include both ‘fake allegations’ and ‘needs training,’ you’re not alone – when the Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrator’s analysed the findings of the investigatory committee, they also came to wildly different conclusions. The chairman, Vinod Rai, was of the view that no adverse action need be taken on the basis of the investigation, whilst Diana Edulji stated that Ms. Gowda’s recommendation of training was sufficient to conclude that Mr. Johri was not fit to be CEO of the BCCI, noting the 2:1 verdict. The CoA concluded that as there was ‘no consensus,’ Mr. Johri was entitled to resume office.
Subject to the debacle, Veena Gowra’s comments from the investigation have been publicized, including where she stated:
It has been noticed that the CoA and the BCCI have not handled the issues raised [by the internal complainant] as per law and in view of the fact that the allegations were against the CEO himself.
Effort to close the concerns/disputes between the parties themselves without going through the due process of law has been made. The CoA and the BCCI should be held accountable for the manner in which this issue has been handled.
The handling of the Johri case has been almost emblematic of the ‘Me Too’ ‘movement.’ An allegation (or several by several different women across a variety of Mr. Johri’s employment roles, for precision) was made in relation to a civil employee – it was investigated privately, and a redacted decision was released relating to a high-value administrative role. And that was that. Cast as malicious fabricators, Johri absolved, the BCCI moves on. With literally zero substantive or material effect. With no open and honest discourse about gender, power, and sexual harassment. With no roadmap of improvement moving forward.
I’ve long been suspicious of the material effect of ‘Me Too,’ not because I believe the slogan to be disingenuous, or ‘damaging to the cause of women’ (which, by the way, should be everyone’s cause – the pertinent problem here being the presumption that women and women alone hold an interest in not being raped or harassed, and there is no gender-neutral societal interest in moving towards such a world), but rather anything that can be sloganized tends to be a reductive and superficial engagement of the topic. The media-storm regarding MeToo has put undue focus on the hunt for the offenders, sensationalizing the issue instead of recognizing it’s true prevalence. The medico-legal significance and global prevalence of Gender-Based Violence is thus that the World Health Organization has a programmatic arm dedicated to tackling the issue. Rape is weaponized during armed conflict in greater volumes than AK-47s. Women are harassed everywhere from pitches to hospitals to the streets. Because rape is not about sex, it’s about power and the capacity to unduly exert it upon others. Finding and proverbially lynching cricket’s Harvey Weinstein is neither the goal, nor the answer. Exploring and addressing the range of reasons for the sheer prevalence of gender and sex based harassment, however, is. It’s neither sexy, nor is it a ratings boost, but discussing the normative cultural behaviors of the sport, as well as the policies and positive acts which can address and institutionally shift social mores must be the goal. Individualization of the behavior to a Weinstein, or a Gayle, amounts to a gross misrepresentation of the nature and commonality of the problem. The problem is the culture, so it is the culture that should be addressed. Individual narratives have a centrality to that problem, but the conversation cannot and should not end there.
After the BCCI’s mishandling of the Johri case came KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya. A semantic translation of Pandya’s comments on Koffee with Karan, a show with Elllenesque impact in the media of the subcontinent, indicate that he treats women as interchangeable, walking vaginas, egged on by a middle aged Media Man acutely aware of the flames he was fanning. What element of braggadocio was involved in his comments is only relevant to the conversation as to ‘why treating women as disposal Fleshlights’ socially amounts to braggadocio in the first place. What the comments tell us is not necessarily the level of individual blame to appoint to the young and key members of the India squad, but rather, what society these men have been raised in, in order to speak of women in this manner. That doesn’t absolve the individuals in question of culpability, but rather raises the question of what brought about this behavior, and what causes it to persist in the era of modernity.
This problem isn’t unique to, or particularly exacerbated in subcontinental society, but is a question all cultures should be actively addressing. Nor are the cases that we hear of the exceptions in anything other than their public nature – in recent months, the initial trial of former Worcestershire all rounder Alex Hepburn found the jury discharged, and a retrial ordered. The story barely made national news, let alone initiating an industry-wide conversation. Of particular note in the trial was a WhatsApp group that Mr. Hepburn and other players were in, where they referred to women they had slept with as ‘freshies’ or ‘reheats’ to indicate the number of times they had slept with them, rating them out of 10 and designating a prize for the best conquest. None of this behavior is illegal, but it is foundational to the normalisation of dehumanization of women, reducing them to walking (and unfortunately, in their view, talking) vaginas. This in itself does not necessarily lead to rape, but does create a society that fails to hold rapists accountable, by for example, allowing for the admission of a complainant’s underwear as evidence in a rape trial of ‘whether she wanted it:’ asking ‘what was she wearing’ when a woman reports being harassed; and creating an environment where women aren’t particularly interested in trying to obtain a conception of ‘justice’ because of the awareness of the onerous nature of reporting a range of harassment offences.
A few months ago, I was heartened by New Zealand’s latest code of conduct – a cricketing code of conduct which recognized the importance of consent and the ways in which it may be a professional issue and an ethical duty to address it. The code included less frequently discussed lessons regarding consent, such as looking for signs of positive, enthusiastic consent, and not presuming the capacity to consent when under the influence. Systemic methods to foster an environment which takes proactive approaches to shaping the society in which we live is clearly the way forward – however, this requires more than mere lip service. The recent, disappointing events in New Zealand, mainly the Blackcap decision to field Scott Kuggeleijn, a man who hasn’t played a match for his national side since he was tried (and acquitted) for rape after admitting during the proceedings that the complainant had ‘said no at least twice.’ Until now. Whilst the lack of a conviction does not mean that the charge was fabricated, but simply that the threshold of certainty was not reached regarding guilt, the events therein can be illustrative of our culture. A number of women have held up signs regarding sexual harassment at the matches since Kuggeleijn rejoined the side, with a ‘No Means No’ sign being removed by security at the Wellington T20 and another fan holding up a ‘Wake up NZ Cricket #MeToo’ sign at the Eden Park T20. Journalist Madeleine Chapman tweeted that her sign was taken down by security ‘as it covered sponsors’ signs.’ Female fans, journalists, cricketers and analysts are making their perspective known to New Zealand cricket, who have stated that they are confident in their handling of the Kuggeleijn issue, and ensure that professional players are taken through a ‘comprehensive workshop on sexual harassment and consent’ during induction. My concern is what effect will such a workshop have in the real world where aged ‘globally respected’ coaches think it appropriate to nestle themselves in female coworkers’ necks, sniffing them and asking what scent they wear whilst a room full of his mentee Elite Athletes™ look on, unblinking? What use is an induction handbook in a tone-deaf environment which decries Sandpapergate cricket’s ‘Me Too’ moment? A band-aid is not the approach here, and nor can an industry that has fostered such an environment be allowed to take that approach.
One of the relatively unique intersections of sport and harassment is the social aspect of heroification. Sports fans, analysts, and society at large engage with athletes as symbols, machines, or beasts. If those symbols have conflict, it’s playing outside off, removing them from human interests and aspects. There are athletes who buy into that heroification, and to some extent, the psychology behind it is understandable. If you’re a player, making tri-format records, treated like a Celebrity God™ in your home, treated the same in the 1 billion plus Indian subcontinent, adding zeroes to your paycheck at will – you buy into it. That’s how we treat elite athletes often from an incredibly young (and cognitively formative) age, cocooning them in the sport, keeping them away from social repercussions. It’s a world tucked away from ‘The Real World,’ consisting of hotel-living, training camps and nights out to celebrate on-field achievements. Somewhere between the normal behaviors lie exacerbated tendencies reinforced by perceived status or achievement, intersecting with an enabling structure already innately predisposed to sexism due to its years spent as a Men’s Club. Herein lies sport’s issue – like other socially-valued industries exemplified by The Weinstein Company and Facebook’s high profile harassment issues – the desire to exert power using sexual means is unsurprisingly found in people who have power, or delusions or aspirations of power. As such, like in education, healthcare and politics, you will find volumes of people who exhibit all ranges of behavior with concerning gendered aspects – albeit in the literal locker room environment derived of real life consequences, where displays of traditional masculinity are encouraged and women are removed in as great a number as possible, continually treated like the exception, or ‘Not Like Other Girls.’ When the harasser is the fan, the cameraman, the match official, the athlete, the administrators, the league owners, and the media empire owner, then one has to step back, stop individualizing the issue and address the very real systemic concerns which persist.