Australia news January 4, 2016

Gayle comments reflect cricket's pervasive sexism

Cricket has come a long way since the days of Lord's preventing women from entering its pavilion, but the events of Monday night are a reminder that it has a long way to go

To call Chris Gayle's exchange with the Ten broadcaster Mel McLaughlin an interview would be to wrongly suggest that Gayle actually answered questions © Getty Images

Last night I went to dinner near the SCG, and spoke to the Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland. We talked about women's cricket, about how the WBBL was growing, how Ten's television coverage was a breakthrough, about how we'd been to far too many dinners, drinks and functions where the women's game was dismissed as a sideshow. "The biggest thing that needs to change in women's cricket," he said, "is how men think about it."

Last night, after we settled into our tables, I sat down alongside the WACA chief executive, Christina Matthews. We spoke about writing, and about how her partner had picked up a new book, The Keepers, in recognition of Matthews' years wearing the gloves for the Australian women's team. There was a Matthews listed in the index, her partner said, but a sense of anticipation was let down when this turned out to be a man.

Last night I heard the new CA chairman David Peever say a few words as the centrepiece of the dinner, put on by the LBW Trust chairman Darshak Mehta. Peever mentioned how his mum and dad had cricket in the house on television and radio throughout his childhood. He also mentioned how his mother knew little of cricket, but when the coverage began, she could be heard to say "there's Richie". Peever closed by saying he hoped to see a day when close to half of Australia's cricket participants were women.

Last night after dinner, I noticed a missed call from the West Indies media manager. It was about Chris Gayle, and his words with the Ten broadcaster Mel McLaughlin. I found a video of the exchange - to call it an interview would be to wrongly suggest that Gayle actually answered questions - and watched how McLaughlin grinned and bore the first intimation of something outside work, then closed her eyes and put on a mask of indifference at the second.

Last night I logged onto Twitter and saw the responses to these words. There was outrage and frustration, but also indignation that anyone should be expected to talk about cricket, and not spew rubbish pick-up lines, when being interviewed about it. I saw Ten's own account initially respond to Gayle's words with the hashtag #smooth, and I saw the Australian footballer Tim Cahill tell Gayle he had been "on fire tonight brother". I also saw Taylor Walker, the Adelaide Crows captain, say this: "A bit of fun by @henrygayle everybody relax - no one hurt, injured or dead!" He was right on two counts.

Last night I called a female journalism colleague, a skillful and tireless operator, and listened to her speak of the episode not with shock or anger, but with weariness. I heard her say that she hated what was happening, but also that she hated the inevitable backlash when speaking up about it. I heard her say that nobody wants to be "that girl", like the one who called out harassment by the former David Jones chief executive Mark McInnes, or the DFAT official who raised concerns about the behaviour of the now former Government Minister Jamie Briggs. I heard her exasperation.

Last night I spoke to other female friends working in media, who offered up strikingly similar thoughts. One offered this: "I honestly left sports journalism because I thought it'd never be satisfying. No matter what females in sport achieve, it's all undermined by dickheads at the pub who don't listen to what women say because they're too busy marking them out of 10 for their looks. Mel shouldn't have had to cop that. It was humiliating and he didn't stop when she was clearly uncomfortable. I just hate that now this will be what people talk about, because she's a pro and better than that."

Last night I called the CA head of public affairs, who had just been on the phone to Anthony Everard, the head of the BBL. Everard said this: "I heard Chris' comments and they're disrespectful and simply inappropriate. We'll certainly be talking to him and the Renegades about it. This league is all about its appeal to kids, families and females. There's just no place in the BBL - or, for that matter, cricket anywhere - for that sort of behaviour."

Last night I wondered how cricket, and sport, could so alienate half the population. Cricket has long struggled to attract a female audience, as befits a game where the home pavilion at Lord's did not permit women to enter until 1999. It has come a long way since that most basic of reforms, but still has so far to go. As Sutherland told the ABC, "I think the support we are seeing through television ratings is really important, but I think more important is the psyche around the fact that cricket is a sport for girls too, and I really sense that people are starting to understand that." Starting to.

Last night, I concluded, is not tomorrow.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

Comments