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Cricket in India is the most popular sport, yet women cricketers have a completely different experience coming through the ranks. What underlying issues have led to the uneven growth of men’s cricket compared to the women’s version?

Sanjeev Verma figured that the only way her daughter Shafali could enroll in the cricket academy was if she cut her hair short and disguised as a boy. The media repeated this story umpteen times, especially given that Shafali managed to navigate the system and made it to the Indian national team. However, the more important question is, how many Shafalis have discontinued cricket as a kid growing up? This article gathers insights from Kartik Jeshwanth (Former Karnataka Player & Coach), Sharadha Sridharan (BCCI Level 1 Coach), and Parminder Gill, Co-Founder of Sportz Village. Ground reality Across the world, particularly in India, the social barriers remain high for girls taking up a sport. Family, school, and the entire community influence girls’ participation in a sports program.

“Until a child turns 12 and enters puberty, there is no difference between a boy and girl. Even at the Under-12 level, I have observed very few girls play cricket since parents and school leaders find irrelevant reasons to discourage the young girls due to lack of awareness,”

stated Sharadha Sridharan, who played both Senior and U-19 cricket in Tamil Nadu.

Beyond personal experiences and anecdotal shreds of evidence, similar observations were found across India. An extensive survey conducted by Sportz Village that included responses from 800+ Coaches found that 72% of girls were made fun of while learning the sport.

“Playing a sport is supposed to be fun for children. However, negative experiences lead to a ripple effect in the negative direction. Our research survey found that 64% of girls withdraw from the cricket program once they learn about their friends pulling out due to a bad experience,”

said Parminder Gill, Co-Founder of Sportz Village.

Diverse factors at play If we take a step back and look at the societal environment around us, several factors impact the mass participation of girls playing a sport. “If urban cities have issues such as space constraint, the safety of women, and transport logistics, the rural locations have insufficient role models for girls to take up a sport,” said Jeshwanth, the former Karnataka player and Coach. Interestingly, indoor sports such as badminton, table tennis, and basketball have witnessed a better enrolment rate for girls at the grassroots level. The comparative statistics between indoors and outdoors open up an interesting debate regarding the social stigma.

“Although sports in India have made tremendous progress in the past two decades, the mindset of the parents enrolling girl children in outdoor sport needs to improve. There is a false notion that outdoor play needs masculine strength,”

stated Jeshwanth, who is part of the teaching faculty at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore.

A cohesive community, the way forward

Charity begins at home, as they say, and a parent passing on cricket information to boys at home, not girls, is probably how some stories start. However, once the child is in school, girls do not have enough role models since the sports coaches are predominantly male. The dropout rate then starts to increase further during the teenage years since girls are embarrassed to discuss topics related to menstrual health with male coaches. The girls who persevere through this obstacle course are far and few at the grassroots level.

“The key lever in turning things around is Coach Education, which then can be applied on the ground in partnership with the schools and academies. Additionally, we need more women ex-cricketers continuously working at the grassroots for a sustainable change,”

said Sharadha Sridharan, who transitioned from a player to a coach.

The findings from Sportz Village’s research survey in schools revealed that enabling girls through different initiatives is the key. “We found that the schools and academies hosting a girls-only cricket camp or tournament regularly have helped get fairly higher enrolment numbers. Likewise, getting locally successful cricketers to visit schools, and incentivising coaches to form girls-only teams can significantly drive girl participation,” said Parminder Gill, Co-Founder of Sportz Village. Ironically, most athletes winning laurels for India on the world stage are women. However, the grassroots scenario is vastly different and needs a collective effort from the community.

A challenging mission, yes, but possible only if everyone rows together towards the common goal of empowering girls in several sporting disciplines, including cricket.