Fall Girls of Cheer?


Fall Girls of Cheer?

Accusations by a Mumbai Indians cheerleader that she was sacked because of her blog entries on flirtatious cricketers leads to the question: is it a fair game?

Last week, the news broke that South African girl Gabriella Pasqualotto, a cheerleader, was sacked from the Mumbai Indians IPL team because of a revelatory blog. Since then, a conspiracy of silence has enveloped the IPL world. Media savvy celebs and commentators, otherwise too happy to be seen and heard, now regret an opinion. Shilpa Shetty, co-owner of Rajasthan Royals refused to comment, as did Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia of Kings XI Punjab.

The alleged sexual harassment of cheerleaders is not a black-and-white debate. While there is little doubt that girls are leered at and sometimes indecent incidents have taken place over the spirit of the game in certain Indian cities, especially in the North, there is another side to the issue. “Cheerleaders take up assignments with their eyes open, they know what they are in for, there is a contract involved and they are clearly briefed about dress, conduct and everything,” says an IPL insider. “Pasqualotto’s allegations are being blown out of proportion. There is no clapping with one hand. People will behave with you given the signals you give out,” says cricket TV show host Archana Vijaya.

Cheerleading, which was associated with professional football, was made a part of the cricketing experience five years back with Twenty20 cricket. And IPL became notorious for its parties and cheerleader scandals right from the first season in 2008. Last year, during Season 3, much muck flew around when drunk gatecrashers misbehaved with certain models at fashion shows, which were a part of IPL parties. A designer had lashed out saying ramps were deliberately constructed higher than eye-level, so that when people stood around to watch, they weren’t just watching garments.

The immediate reaction of the organisers was to squelch such criticism. Which is why, a celebrity commentator says that he can well believe that the South African cheerleader was sacked. “I am not surprised. It may well have happened. But let’s not forget that the girls are adults, they should know how to look after themselves when they seek work in a foreign country,” he says.

Partying was a non-negotiable part of IPL fashion show contracts last year. Those who signed, were aware of its peripheral problems. Similarly, cheerleaders not only sign contracts, some willingly troop into parties. Delhi Daredevils cheerleader Namrita Malla, for instance, is against attending IPL parties. “I have never gone for even one IPL party and don’t even want to go as there are a lot of controversies attached,” she says.

Sooraj Katoch, owner of Zenith Dance Studio which has outsourced nine cheerleaders to Delhi Daredevils agrees. “Our girls do not attend IPL parties — they head back home straight. The foreign girls go for parties and people here end up misunderstanding them,” he says.

Katoch hits the nail on the head. White-skinned girls from foreign countries are at a disadvantage. Being provocatively dressed, given Indian sensibilities, they are seen as “easy game” and are aggressively eve-teased. “Leching? Oh, much more, and what do you expect for a white girl at Delhi’s Ferozshah Kotla grounds?” says a South African cheerleader sarcastically. And as Sharda Ugra, Senior Editor with cricinfo.com says, “They have been brought in as dancing girls into an environment which is not used to them. The question to ask is whether these girls are safe?”

Where does the onus lie? What happens between consenting adults is one part of the story but when mutual games of sexual flirtation cross the line to sexual harassment, the victims need support and help. “Till now, no such incident has happened with our girls. If, in future, some one misbehaves with a cheerleader from our institute, we will take strict action. We will call the police. If the offender refuses to apologise, then we will withdraw from IPL,” says Kotecha.

Ugra agrees. “Those who hire these girls are employers. They must take responsibility for welfare, gender safety, medical issues as well as safe guards against sexual harassment,” says Ugra.

With inputs by Somya Lakhani