Sporting Life

The Gayle fiasco: It's time we became better men

Let's not laugh at Chris Gayle's creepy conduct with a female interviewer while she was doing her job because it isn't funny. Maybe we once thought it was, maybe we were even guilty of such idiocy once when we were uninformed, unenlightened punks. But it's 2016 now and the time on such behaviour has run out.

Let's not be one of those smug, macho blokes armed with the over-smart tweet who thinks a man's best look is a leer. Instead let's be angry at hateful comments about women that have arrived with this episode - various versions of "you asked for it" and "you're pissed because you never got hit on" and "you whingeing feminazi" - because it just makes it harder for women to speak out and yet some still do and that's real courage.

Let's be clear, this is not just about Gayle, this not about one incident, this is about the slow drip of lame comments, the endless leering, the sly asides, all the time, which many women are rightly tired of.

Let's be deeply embarrassed that Neroli Meadows, a Fox Sports journalist in Australia, has to say: "Perhaps, for one second, just trust us. Rather than saying what a bunch of whingeing women, just trust us that maybe we're telling the truth and maybe it is upsetting and it does happen all the time and it's not OK. Maybe just back us in on that, just once."

From the anecdotal evidence I have and the articles I have read, female sportswriters in the West over time seem to have confronted a far more hideous sexism. An Indian writer in contrast speaks of the many generosities that male athletes and officials afforded her as a young writer. Yet she, middle-aged, also tells a sad tale. "I made rules for myself. Plain clothes. Plain shoes. Be invisible. Never call attention to yourself. But young women these days are much better: they don't want to be the furniture and good for them."

Let's accept that part of the whole Gayle issue is that some men continue to resent the idea of women in sport. They're almost surprised that the playing fields of this planet and the press box have not been anointed by some chauvinistic God as a male preserve.

Let's accept that part of the whole Gayle issue is that some men continue to resent the idea of women in sport. They're almost surprised that the playing fields of this planet and the press box have not been anointed by some chauvinistic God as a male preserve. In the 1970s, a male player told Billie Jean King that "No one wants to watch you birds play." We've made progress, even if equal prize money in tennis still gives some male pals of mine worse heartburn than cheap whiskey.

If female athletes have battled indignity then women sports reporters have faced snide remarks from male colleagues, received text messages from managers asking for a date with their player and been denied access by officials.

Sharda Ugra, a leading Indian sportswriter, recalls an unsigned article which claimed that she and her ilk lacked the nuance and technical expertise to write capably on sport. On another occasion, Australian writer Jacquelin Magnay was told by an AFL footballer- turned-commentator to "get home and wash the dishes".

Anjali Doshi, in 2013, wrote a piece in Wisden, India where she recounted how a male journalist confessed that "whenever I have a controversial question to ask a cricketer, I make sure I stand behind a pretty female reporter. The cricketer gets distracted by her looks and I get my answer without too much attention being drawn to myself".

Even in Singapore, a female colleague, while insisting she was never harassed, recollects a subtle discrimination. "Just a sense," she says "that women have no place in certain sports."

"In my school days," she adds, "if I said I watched football I was told I must be a United fan because of David Beckham. Because women only watch sport for cute guys and we can't appreciate sport for what it is." Any chauvinist who believes that is guilty of ignorance because it means he hasn't read Ugra, Johnette Howard, Louisa Thomas, Chloe Saltau, Shivani Naik, Sally Jenkins.

Women TV reporters often have it harder for they are victims of a dull stereotype: some men believe that if they are well dressed and made up then clearly they can't know sport. Pretty and accomplished is too powerful an idea to consider. Better to reduce them to mike-wielding bimbos which is how Gayle treated his interviewer. Did he not know he was disrespecting a professional at work in full public view or did he not care?

Let's recognise that many athletes do behave impeccably and set fine examples. But let's puncture this bubble of entitlement in which some stars still reside, which leads them to believe they have immunity from any laws of decency. And let's temper this insensible idea of hero worship wherein great player somehow is confused with great man.

Let's draw a line that says enough. Enough of commentators who just chuckled. Enough of officials who don't take stern action. Enough with this phrase "politically incorrect" because some things are just plain incorrect. Let's also do what Meadows asks. Let's back these women. Let's just be better men.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2016, with the headline 'The Gayle fiasco: It's time we became better men'. Print Edition | Subscribe