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Washing Away The Debacles Of 16 Years Or Charisma In The 2nd Year: RCB’s Victory In WPL 2024 Asks Questions

RCB Women’s Team clinched the WPL 2024 title earlier this month after defeating DC Women by 8 wickets in the latter’s second consecutive WPL final. RCB’s fanbase hailed their women’s team as game-changers – “The women did what the men could not!” – as RCB won its first-ever title, 16 years after their men’s team started playing in the IPL.

The streets of Bengaluru were painted red as throngs of RCB fans came out in celebrations, while social media was awash with jubilant fans congratulating and cheering the players – something that most people would never have expected to happen for a trophy won by women in such a traditionally male-dominated sport. After they won the much-coveted trophy, back in the RCB fortress, the Men’s side gave them a guard of honour as they entered with the trophy.

Many have welcomed the overwhelming love and support RCB women received after their well-deserved victory. In particular, the loyal RCB fanbase celebrating a WPL title with such gusto makes one feel as if women cricketers are at last getting as much respect as the men do, if not greater. Of course, if you Google RCB, it still shows up the men’s team, not the women’s; for all intents and purposes RCB denotes the men’s team and RCB Women, the women’s team.

The case for the Indian National Cricket Team is identical. But the general shift in the pulse of the public is apparent – women’s cricket can and is pulling crowds, and is rapidly changing the atmosphere of the fan mentality.

Hence the question arises, does the outpouring of love towards RCB women inarguably prove that WPL teams are finally getting the acceptance they deserve? Or is there more to it than meets the eye? Or are they merely playing second fiddle to the franchise, being lauded for their victory only?

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Women’s cricket in India has been growing by leaps and bounds for quite a few years now, especially after the exemplary performance of the Women’s National Team in the 2017 World Cup. After the success of WBBL, which made cricket more professional in Australia, the role of this kind of league became much more evident as it provided a much more internalisation-like atmosphere to the domestic cricketers.

Whenever the importance of the same kind of league in India was pointed out, it was often argued that the Indian domestic cricket structure doesn’t have enough depth and women’s cricket is not marketable enough. The launch of WPL in 2023, which was long due, has proved to be a massive shot in the arm for women’s cricket: in terms of visibility, sponsorships, fan support as well and investments, in two years.

The inaugural season of WPL itself received the highest viewership on any women’s event globally, and the viewership in its newest season has increased manyfold. We have come a long way from the first ever T20 women’s competition in 2018 – the Women’s T20 challenge – which starting from a single match was eventually extended to a 3-team tournament until it was replaced by the present 5-team Women’s Premier League in 2023.

Out of the 5 WPL franchises, 3 were bought by existing IPL franchise owners, including RCB. Naturally, we see the huge, predominantly male fanbase of the existing IPL teams also cheering for their women’s teams, for the sake of the brand value. Even though this united show of support towards two teams belonging to a single club has been seen in other sports around the world, it runs the risk of blurring the very real lines that exist between the two – while similarities are embraced, differences end up being ignored.

Men and women players deserve equal pay, equal visibility and equal support, but their unique backgrounds (and privileges), struggles, achievements and needs have to be adequately acknowledged. While support from fans of the men’s team is desirable, it should not in any way overshadow the independent identity of the women’s team.

ALSO READ: WPL 2024: Here’s The A-Z Of The Tournament

Needless to say, women athletes on a global level have had to maintain an unusually high standard in order to be taken seriously. It is no different in the Indian context – women sportspersons have always had to do extra to receive the minimum amount of respect from fans and investors alike.

It feels as if a major section of men following women’s sports on social media are on the lookout for women falling short in any way – just so that they can laugh, type “women!” and move on. Unlike their male counterparts, women have needed to keep on winning trophies just to prove that they belong to the game.

DC women, after losing to RCB got comments such as “How could these women lose to a team like RCB! Pathetic!” The RCB men, on the other hand, were encouraged to win their title in the upcoming season, saying that “they should learn from the women”. One is therefore left wondering if RCB women would have been embraced thus by devoted RCB fans as “one of their own” had they failed to win the final.

Would they have been subject to ridicule instead, similar to what many DC women had to face? Or would the fans have brushed off their failure simply as a bad day at office, and continued to support them, much like the way they support the men’s team?

The recent developments in Indian Women’s Cricket certainly need to be appreciated. The meteoric rise of WPL has opened up a range of possibilities for many aspiring women cricketers in India. The pay parity introduced by BCCI deserves a special mention too. But we need to be careful in celebrating too much, too soon. The double standards that are still very much present in our society cannot be brushed away under the guise of cheering for men and women equally.

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