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Sunday, September 30, 2001

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Women's cricket: dearth of funds the major hindrance

By Vijay Lokapally

NEW DELHI, SEPT. 29. On surface it looks rosy but women's cricket in India is experiencing a crisis. Lack of funds has been a major hindrance in the progress of the sport and given the situation, this season could be quite crucial in dictating the future course in terms of raising funds to organise better competitions.

The incentives come wrapped with lot of riders and that is the prime reason why the number of women wanting to take up cricket as a career has remained stagnant. The Women's Cricket Association of India (WCAI) secretary, Ms. Anuradha Dutt, however, likes to project a positive picture but there is no doubt that the overall mood is despondent.

Ms. Dutt has been actively involved in promoting women's cricket and is acknowledged as the leading force for quite some time. ``I'm doing what I can to sustain the sport but we are certainly feeling the cash crunch like never before,'' she said while discussing the programme chalked out to attract more youngsters to the game.

The zonal competitions will be the first to take off next month with the National championship slated to be held at Faridabad from October 16 to 26. The Ranji Jhansi cricket tournament will be held at Pune from October 29 and then the WCAI will wait for the New Zealanders to arrive.

Camps are in progress as the women cricketers prepare for the season. ``Young girls are being attracted towards the game but without proper finances we can't do much. We've to give the girls more competitions and that can come only if we have funds to organise camps and tournaments,'' said Ms. Dutt.

There was bad news on the employment front too. The job opportunities have reduced drastically for the women cricketers. Air India has stopped recruitment in the footsteps of banks and Railways remains the only organisation to offer jobs to women cricketers.

``We presently have 70 women cricketers on the pay roll but not even ten per cent of them are active players. There's no positive reason for the organisation to recruit more women cricketers,'' said an official from the Railways.

Ms. Dutt spoke of providing girls with international matches to improve their standard. ``Unless we give the girls more international exposure they won't be able to keep pace with the players from other countries. We have just three tournaments for them in the country and that's not sufficient at all,'' she said.

The WCAI had sometime back approached the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for help. ``In Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa the women's associations have merged with the men's body. It's essential because it helps them get some financial assistance. For us, there's no financial help coming from any quarter. It's more than three months since we wrote to the BCCI but there's been no response,'' Ms. Dutt informed.

The WCAI's effort to get sponsors to invest in women's cricket has remained an exercise of whistling in the dark. ``It's not that we seek fabulous sponsorship like the BCCI gets, but just the amount to provide basic incentives and better facilities to our girls who have shown the talent to make a mark in international cricket,'' said Ms. Dutt.

A woman cricketer today receives just Rs. 1,000 for a one-day International and Rs. 2,000 for a Test match.

The WCAI has received invitations to tour England and South Africa next year, ahead of the World Cup in 2003. ``There's no dearth of competitions but the difficulty is raising money for such assignments. We need money to provide the girls the right infrastructure. It's not lack of ability but lack of finances. I know the progress has been slow but much of it is due to lack of funds,'' Ms. Dutt said.

A few committed cricketers have been lost due to various reasons- disillusionment in some instances and marriage in others. Ms. Dutt revealed, ``Ours is still a conservative society and it's difficult for a girl to keep playing once she is married. They find cricket time consuming. Lots of girls have stopped playing after marriage. Pramilla (Bhatt) was a top cricketer and she quit when she got married. The same happened to Sangeeta (Dabir). Now Chandrakanta (Ahir) has given up. It's difficult to keep them attached to cricket because there's no money in the game.''

Merger of the WCAI with the BCCI could provide a way out for women's cricket in India to gain respect and recognition, like in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa. Ms. Dutt was praying for some positive development on this front in the near future.

Until then, she vowed to continue her efforts to raise sponsorships and to keep the women cricketers in India motivated and hopeful of some good times ahead.

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