New Delhi: A few years back, Indian bowler S. Sreesanth informed the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) that he was being harassed and bullied by two of his seniors, a spinners and a pacer.
A senior member of the BCCI from the central zone investigated the allegation but his finding was never made public to the board members or players.
Months after his complaint, Harbhajan Singh slapped Sreesanth in a full public view during an IPL match. The reason for that incident is still unknown.
In the very protective and secretive world of the BCCI, cases of bullying, ragging or sexual harassment are hardly reported or brought out in the open. Till date, there is only one case of sexual harassment in the game in the public domain.
In 2009, two women players, Savitha Kumari, captain of the Andhra woman team, and Durga Bhavani, filed a police complaint alleging “sexual misdeeds” against the then general secretary and former Team India manager, V. Chamundeswaranath of the Andhra Cricket Association (ACA). Following that, the police registered an FIR against him under section 509 of the IPC.
Since then, matters in this regard are believed to be on the mend. In fact, the BCCI has included bullying, ragging and sexual harassment in its program to educate and empower the next generation of Indian cricketers.
In its new handbook, Hundred Things a Professional Cricketer Must Know, authored by the GO Sports Foundation and released on September 8, the BCCI deals forthrightly with these problems, a first for Indian cricket.
“For a cricketer or any sportsperson, being subject to sexual harassment can undermine performance, self-esteem and personal goals,” reads the handbook.
“Cricketers can be particularly vulnerable to harassment because the team environment is characterised by close physical and emotional relationships and complex power dynamics. It is important for a cricketer to understand that sexual harassment is not confined to one gender. It can be initiated by a person of any gender against another person of the opposite gender or the same gender”.
The handbook, with a foreword by former captain Rahul Dravid, says further, “Sexual harassment refers to any type of unwelcome behavior that has a sexual element. It may or may not involve physical contact, may be verbal or non-verbal, and may be explicit or implicit. In essence, it is behaviour with a sexual theme that offends, humiliates or intimidates the person(s) it is directed to.”
The BCCI’s new handbook could be a great manual for other sports federations where reports of sexual harassment cases suggest the problem is on the rise.
Three year ago, Satvir Singh, chief wrestling coach at SAI training center in Hissar, was arrested for allegedly sexually harassing a teenage woman wrestler there. He was later suspended by the SAI.
A female gymnast accused coach Manoj Rana and gymnast Chandan Pathak of sexual harassment ahead of the 2014 Asiam Games.
Also, former Olympian M.K. Kaushik had to resign as chief coach in 2010 after a member of the Indian women’s hockey team, Ranjia Devi, alleged that she was sexually harassed by the coach and not considered for inclusion in the team because she refused to entertain the coach’s ‘demand’.
According to the BCCI handbook, “Sexual harassment in the sphere of cricket may include use of offensive stereotypes based on a person’s gender, sexual jokes, threats, intimidation, approaches or actions of a sexual nature, requests for sexual favours, display of offensive material, and facilitating a hostile and uncomfortable environment… Any type of unwelcome behaviour that has a sexual element and may or may not involve physical contact, may be verbal or non-verbal, and may be explicit or implicit,” it says.
The handbook encourages cricketers to alert their coaches and officials about such behaviour immediately.
The handbook also stipulates that if a victim is not satisfied with the action taken by their organisation subsequent to a complaint, they should approach law enforcement authorities and file a criminal complaint with the police as the IPC has strengthened provisions to punish perpetrators based on the nature and degree of sexual harassment.
Bullying and ragging
The handbook also discusses bullying and ragging. “Bullying is an act of aggression by a person of superior strength or position to harm or adversely influence another person, either psychologically or physically. Bullying may occur by hitting, threatening, intimidating, teasing and taunting, and name-calling, or by more subtle acts such as spreading rumors or encouraging others to reject the person. Bullies generally target individuals whom they perceive as weaker or more vulnerable,” it explains.
According to a senior BCCI official, there were many instances where senior players bullied their teammates but because of the huge money and stakes involved, cricketers do not report such cases.
Bullying in sports came to national attention in 2015 when a 17-year-old athlete killed herself in a suicide pact with three other trainees following harassment at the SAI Water Sports Centre in Kerala. A suicide note signed by the all four victims revealed that they had been subjected to harassment by their seniors for small faults every day.
The BCCI handbook has covered every aspect of such situations.
It explains that swearing, screaming, depriving individuals of sleep or making them forego personal hygiene, forcing individuals to eat vile or disgusting substances, forcing victims to indulge in any perverted or sadistic acts amount to harassment or insult of victims.
“Ragging, on the other hand, is any action or situation created by a group to intentionally produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule among those wishing to join the group,” it reads. “Ragging is essentially a form of bullying, but it differs from it in one key aspect. Bullies often act alone but ragging commonly involves a larger group or team. Ragging may be more prevalent in team sports such as cricket, where the group dynamic is constantly present”.
In its concluding note, the handbook suggests bullying and ragging may both have serious effects on the victim. In case any cricketer is subjected to such form of behaviour in a team environment, he or she is expected to report the matter to the coach of the team or any other responsible official.
Jasvinder Sidhu is a sports investigative journalist.