BCCI’s equal match fee fine, but still too little overall
India’s women cricketers though play far fewer matches, and hardly any Test, and that will mean only a fraction of the money their male counterparts earn, writes Sharda Ugra
BCCI’s announcement that centrally-contracted women’s cricketers would receive the same match fees as the men was described via its secretary Jay Shah’s tweet as the ‘first step towards tackling discrimination’ and implementing a ‘pay equity’ policy for Indian teams. In the official media release that followed, the decision was called “marquee” (new president Roger Binny), “revolutionary” (vice-president Rajiv Shukla), “game-changer” (treasurer Ashish Shelar) and “historic” (joint secretary Devajit Saikia).
After these words, let’s look at the numbers. For the 15 women (down from 17 after Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami retired) currently under BCCI’s central contracts, the highest benefits come from white-ball cricket. The ODI match fees per game went up from ₹1 lakh to ₹6 lakh and the T20I match fees increased from ₹1 lakh to Rs3 lakh. The Test match increase— ₹4 lakh per game to ₹15 lakh—reads impressive but women play very few Tests. India women played two Tests in 2021 and have none this year. In the last 15 years, only four women’s teams have played Tests—England, Australia, India and South Africa.
Match-fee parity will not mean equal annual match-revenue for the women. The men just play more cricket—73 matches in 2022 alone (seven Tests, 24 ODIs and 42 T20Is). The women’s matches total 42—18 ODIs and 24 T20s. For the women however, to go from their first contracts in 2015 to equal match fees inside seven years is progress on steroids.
The BCCI is the first of the Big Three to announce equal match fees for contracted players. Cricket Australia and the ECB are shy of revealing player salaries, arrived at after negotiations with player associations.
The Indian board is not the first to offer equal match fees for women players. In July, New Zealand Cricket announced a five-year deal with equal match fees for men and women in the international and domestic game, “across all formats and all competitions.” NZC, regional associations and the players’ association were all involved in formulating the deal. Women’s domestic contracts were increased from 54 to 72. NZC’s five-year “forecast revenue” of $349m, of which players would receive 29.75percent—an estimated $104m—formed the basis of their equal match fee figures. When an entire playing community receives a fair share of board revenues, the words landmark and historic acquire a deeper meaning.
But it would be churlish to consider the BCCI announcement as a low-hanging fruit policy decision. We can see it as ‘baby steps’ on the road ahead, which promises plenty. There’s the women’s IPL promised in March, but how about higher central contracts for the elite women’s game? Why not start with domestic contracts for men and women together, and equal match fees like in New Zealand?
The BCCI could form a committee for only running the women’s game, for separate marketing, broadcast rights, a more broad-based playing calendar. Growing India’s female cricket base with more women coaches, selectors, officials? It would be good to hear the details of BCCI’s Prevention of Sexual Harassment Policy, whether it is mandatory across states and who is in its complaint committee?
What BCCI’s Thursday announcement also revealed was that Cricket Australia and England Cricket Board, very overtly supportive of women’s cricket and working with player associations unlike the Indian board, are yet to implement gender equal match fees. A day after the BCCI announcement, The UK Telegraph reported that ECB had invested £3.5m more into women’s domestic cricket and by February 2023 would offer 80 women cricketers' contracts with 100 women cricketers receiving an average salary of £25,000 (approx. ₹23lakh) a year.
For BCCI, levelling match fees for less than two dozen elite women players makes for superb optics. The England news again reminds us of the gap in Indian centralised contracts. India’s A-plus grade men (Kohli, Rohit and Bumrah) earn Rs7 crore a year, the women Rs50 lakh, the identical top-grade salary for the men in 2004 when BCCI first announced contracts.
BCCI’s salary and contract structure actually don’t add up. It makes zero sense why India’s top cricketers get paid less than Australia’s. Mitchell Starc, Australia’s fourth-highest earner on a $1.4m ( ₹7.4crore) annual contract, is ahead of Rohit, Kohli & Co.
The highest contract for a male Aussie cricketer is A$2.2m (approx. ₹11.7 crore).
Nathan Lyon, No 7 on that list of highest paid Aussie cricketers (A$1.1m/approx. ₹5.82 crore), earns around ₹82 lakh more per year than India’s Grade-A players—Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Mohammed Shami, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Along with these bigger-than-BCCI contracts, the pay of every Australian cricketer, male or female, totals 27.5% revenue share of Cricket Australia. BCCI’s 27.5% revenue share will be higher than that of CA. Then how come even its star India players who are meant to get about 13% of BCCI’s 26% of revenue earnings earn less than the Aussies?