by Shweta Kabra and Mona Nooreyezdan
So for those of you who don’t know why “random” and “insignificant” emails regarding sports events which no one cares about were being sent to the common IDs last week, here’s what happened (Or at least how we see it; feel free to disagree):
“Let us know when five minutes are up” That’s the line we hear before every match begins. The moment those precious five minutes are over, the game stops and the female player is substituted. Although not true for every team, it still is the dominant practice. For this reason, a few female members of the sports committee of our college thought it would be a good idea to mix things up by formulating a new rule. As conveyed to the college over email the rule stated -“At any time during a game, each team must have a minimum of two girls and two boys on the court”. Naturally, that meant that even if a team has only two women, they had to play for the entire duration of the match. It, however, also meant that if a team does not have two women, then the team may play with five men and one woman. As we understood it, this was the exception to the rule. So no team would actually be forced to call a girl down who doesn’t want to play.
This rule was arbitrarily changed by the organizers of the tournament before the first match began because one of the teams only had one girl. However, the rule was “reinterpreted” to be “a minimum of one girl has to play at all times and a different girl must play each set”. This new rule was supposed to give both female members of the team an opportunity to play. Even so, this rule was only conveyed to the team captains and not to the college through an email, neither was was it discussed with any other member of the sports committee, let alone the three women on the committee (only one of whom is an elected member in all five years, isn’t that enough to portray patriarchy in sports?).
The first two days of the tournament passed by without any objections to the rule. However, on the third day when both the teams had two or more girls but were playing with one girl each, a few women raised objections that the new rule which was conveyed to the college in the email was not being followed.
Arguments were made as to how no one ever objected to the reinterpreted rule on the first two days so the rule should not change half way through the tournament. Agreed, rules of a tournament should not change in the middle, but does that mean arbitrarily changing the rule at the beginning of the tournament makes it alright? Does not objecting mean we have waived our right? We don’t think so.
Let’s look at the larger picture. How many women come down to play in the evening or come for the sports fests? Why is it that the sports contingent comprises of only a handful of girls who play everything? Some people are of the opinion that it is because they like to sit on their comfortable beds and watch movies or care more about mooting and other activities. Most girls are never encouraged to play sports at home. After coming to college, those who did want to learn were intimidated by the environment of the court dominated by men. Fear of body shaming and embarrassment also forms part of creating an unreceptive environment. In fact, many women who played in school have also stopped playing after coming to college. Keeping this in mind, we must understand how difficult it is for the few women to speak up against the huge number of men on the court, many of whom were shouting and vehemently opposing the two girls’ rule.
An interesting suggestion that was made by one of the players (who vehemently opposed to the two- women rule) was this: “why don’t you start your own all women-tournament?” Sure, its a great idea (and we plan to take off with it next semester) but the fact that it was said in response to women claiming the rule to be followed makes it somewhat skewed. We want to make it clear that the tournament was not organized for men alone. You are not “allowing/letting us” play nor are you doing us a favour by taking women in your team. The tournament exists for us as much as it does for you.
After all the hue and cry, it was decided by one male member of the Sports Committee (without paying heed to any other member) to continue with the 5 boys and 1 girl rule.
An emergency sports committee meeting was convened by the girls after the fiasco. The change in rule was justified by saying that the initial rule in the email was simply ‘incorrect’ and has never been followed in our college. An appeal to follow tradition of playing with minimum one girl was made. The women were also advised by one particular member to ‘Keep Ghar Ki Baat Ghar Mein’ and not tell the entire world about the internal problems of the sports committee.
The rule was also justified by saying that one girl is the minimum, therefore, there is no bar to have more than one girl and it depends upon the Captain’s discretion. However, we have seen from our past experiences, especially in the football and the basketball tournaments, most teams would not let the female player play more than the minimum required time limit of ten minutes. You’re kidding yourself if you feel that women will get a chance to play more than the minimum required out of them. There are exceptions, of course.
Another argument was what we call the ‘best team’ argument. Basically, being a competitive game, the batch must be allowed to field the best team possible, regardless of whether it includes girls or boys. The shallowness of this argument cannot even be put in words. You, as a sports committee member in particular, cannot choose to ignore the lack of female participation in sports. Both the sexes are not on an equal level playing field here. More opportunities have to be made available to the women to encourage them to participate in sports activities.
Unfortunately, one member of the sports committee also went to the extent of saying that the sports committee’s mandate is not to encourage female participation but to promote competition among students. Of course, both the aims are so obviously antithetical to each other. How can one promote competition while encouraging girls to participate? In his own words, if we allow two girls in a team of six to play, then the “quality of the competition” would deteriorate. Even though most people did not object to the two-girl rule per se, it was implicit that they were uncomfortable with having two girls on the court, because the ‘quality of the competition’ would go down.
Most importantly, some of the members of the committee are of the opinion that the rule of having a minimum of 2 girls was never actually a correct rule. It was a wrong rule notified to the teams. The rule was discussed with few members and only then sent out to the entire college. We feel appalled at how few male members felt that they were entitled to change the rule concerning women’s participation, further justify it by calling it an “incorrect” rule, and expected women to follow that rule silently. However, this sadly is not just the attitude of the Sports Committee of the college but most of the men on the field as well. They are willing to do us “favours” by “letting us play” as long as we take up that one spot on the team only for ten minutes. As soon as we demand an increase in the minimum time limit and minimum number of girls required, the conversation becomes about how women lower the quality of the competition. Favours will be done as long as we follow their rules.
This no way is trying to take away from the efforts of the Committee, the Rolling Paper and individual efforts to make tournaments more inclusive. That being said, these efforts should not only be restricted to making rules for allowing girls to participate. That is only one measure. Making rules to allow us to play is one thing, but acknowledging our authority when drafting those rules is another. This has never been a problem in the past because whenever a change was suggested regarding the rules for women in a tournament, they were never objected to. However, those changes were very mild (for example, increasing the minimum time for girl players from five to ten minutes). As soon as we demanded for such a “radical” increase (with sarcasm) in the number of women players, we were condemned for going too far.
Sexism is all pervasive but in the field of sports, it is so conspicuous that one simply cannot miss out on it. We hope to bring to light patriarchy in sports through this article and to bring a positive change in how all of us view women in sports.