THE FIFTH COLUMN
For sportsmen who take up commentating as an afterthought to their illustrious careers, the learning curve is steep. A mic with a mysterious little roof is thrust into your face and you’re asked to “just let it flow”, often having to fill dead air with chit-chat. Clichés will be repeated, slips will be made. (“These umpires are weak,” a West Indies voice boomed into my living room the other day. “Those hips don’t lie,” a rugby pundit commented on the anatomy of a wing one fine Saturday afternoon.)
Regardless, I still listen. I listen for a rise in the pitch of their voices when I can’t see the screen, and run to the screen when vowels are stretched. I’ve had many a deep nap falling asleep to the careful dissection of some or other technicality in cricket rules, and waking up to another. I catch myself time and again not paying attention to the game when the sound is off. Sports commentators and the things they say have been a part of my illustrious sport-watching career for as long as I can remember. They’ve been an all-male cast with an all-male perspective on things.
“Welcome to the 2019 men’s Cricket World Cup,” the man on the TV said the other day. I wasn’t sure what I’d heard, then it came again: “In the history of the men’s Cricket World Cup, no player has ever achieved as much.” It was a very subtle sensation, but I was sure I’d heard, in that sentence I’d heard many times before, something that was out of the norm. I looked at my viewing partner, who asked, “Did he just say ‘men’s World Cup’?” to which I had to reply: “I think he did.”
There has been a paradigm shift in the commentating box, it seems. World cups will henceforth be assigned gender so as to not make it seem like one game is the be-all and end-all. In the history of sports commentating, no three-letter word has ever achieved as much. From now on, every time I hear “men’s Cricket World Cup” I’m reminded there’s a “Women’s Cricket World Cup” that deserves my undivided attention.
The revolution has spilled onto the screen. In the top right corner of my TV screen, for most of last week I saw a countdown to none other than the Fifa Women’s World Cup — another first, and also confirmed by my viewing partner. I confess I didn’t do the same, but I know people who sat down and watched the opening ceremony of this tournament. Even without the counter on the screen, the event is still very much on my mind.
But there’s a long way to go, I think. Much room for improvement. It’s surprising to still see (female) cheerleaders at rugby games, not only asked to bare all each weekend, but doing so cheering a winter sport. Cameramen (teenagers?) at these games have lenses only for the ladies in the crowd, alternating their aim between the cheerleaders and the ladies in the crowd.
Would it be a stretch to employ men cheerleaders, barefoot, skimpily dressed and scissoring their legs in the cold, at women’s rugby games? Is it too much to ask for a woman to take charge and swing the camera in the direction of the men she finds irresistibly attractive?
I don’t think it is.