NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two Indian cricketers have sparked outrage after a run of misogynist comments on prime television, prompting calls for gender sensitisation in a sport rife with sex scandal.
Hardik Pandya and Lokesh Rahul were guests on an episode of ‘Koffee with Karan’ - a popular TV chat show that aired on Sunday - where the former boasted about a crowded sex life and objectified women by casually dissecting their bodies.
People took to social media in vast numbers to criticise Pandya, as well as Rahul and show host Karan Johar, a Bollywood producer and director, saying they were complicit.
It also triggered an official backlash, with India’s main cricket board, the BCCI, asking the duo for a speedy explanation at a time when the sport’s mores are already under scrutiny.
Casual sexism is nothing new to cricket, after West Indies batsman Chris Gayle made louche suggestions to female reporters and appeared to treat them as sex objects in incidents in 2016.
Australian-born cricketer Alex Hepburn is on trial in Britain after he was accused of raping a sleeping woman as part of a sex game conducted on WhatsApp. He denies the allegation.
In 2015, Sri Lankan cricket authorities sacked three officials after allegations that members of the women’s national team had been forced to perform sexual favours in order to earn or keep their places in the squad.
Australian spin-bowling legend Shane Warne’s career was riddled with sex controversies dating back nearly two decades.
Experts say the BCCI intervention is crucial to ensure “locker room talk” is not normalised in India, where cricket is a national obsession and top players are revered by millions.
“With power comes responsibility and in Hardik’s case, it was an act of complete irresponsibility,” cricket historian Boria Majumdar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
He said cricketers, who join the national team from a range of backgrounds and regions, can get swept away by fame and believe their every move “will be appreciated and accepted”.
“We need to mentor and groom our cricketers... We need to help them understand where to draw the line,” he said.
A wave of #MeToo revelations has rocked India, breaking a culture of silence around sexual attack, harassment and everyday sexism, calling men to account in a male-dominated country.
The campaign has hit many high-profile public personalities including those in the media, Bollywood, corporates and sport.
But changing attitudes on and off the pitch is proving hard.
Pandya, 25, managed to mix sexism and racism on the TV show.
Bejewelled and wearing yellow sunglasses, Pandya said he emulates the “West Indies and black culture”, which he credited for teaching him just how to treat women.
“You are just watching (women at a nightclub). You are just watching and observing how they move,” he said.
“I am a little from the black side, so I have to see how they move first. Then I can imagine the picture.”
He also said that when he lost his virginity, he bragged to his parents and, when at a party, pointed to multiple women and told his parents: “I have something going on with each of them”.
On Wednesday, Pandya posted an apology on social media, saying he “got carried away with the nature of the show” - which encourages guests to gossip and divulge personal details.
But the cricket board is not happy with an apology and may impose more penalties, according to NDTV news channel’s website.
“Such action is necessary, and important, for the most obvious reason: Hardik Pandya’s casual misogyny and sexism speak directly to the larger problem that is roiling our society,” said Prem Panicker, a senior cricket journalist.
Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories