Why are women in a sport star’s life blamed for poor performance?

When media and people place blame at the feet of women in lives of superstars, they’re sending a subtle but dangerous message that - Men have no control over their actions, because of women

Why are women in a sport star’s life blamed for poor performance?

Smita Singh

We as a society have fallen to the lowest of the low!

When I read that MS Dhoni’s six-year-old daughter Ziva, following Chennai Super Kings’ 10-run loss to Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2020 has received rape threats, I felt gutted.

Can someone please tell me, if her father lost a match playing a sport, why was she targeted?

Blaming the wife or girlfriend and in this case the daughter for a male sport star’s less-than-stellar showing is, of course, nothing new. Who can forget actor Anushka Sharma being blamed for every poor performance of her Cricket star husband Virat Kohli. I’ll get to this later.

To target Ziva was aimed to shame Dhoni. A wife or a daughter is a man’s pride, so ‘hit where it hurts’ most seemed to be the aim. Did they achieve it? I guess they have, coz which father, here even the mother Sakshi Dhoni was tagged in the rape threat, will not feel anguished! Ziva is a child for God's sake! Leave her alone. If Dhoni is not performing up to the mark, he should know why.

Saga of a star wife

Coming back to Anushka Sharma. When Virat Kohli's team Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) lost the match to Kings XI Punjab by a massive 97 runs recently, actor and wife to the franchise's skipper Anushka Sharma was once again at the receiving end of the wrath of social media users for RCB and Kohli's poor performance in particular.

When former Indian skipper Sunil Gavaskar too joined the team of internet trolls to make a 'distasteful' remark against Anushka, blaming her for Kohli performance during commentary duties, things came to a point when Anushka had to speak for herself. Gavaskar had remarked, “Inhone lockdown me to bas Anushka ki gendon ki practice ki hain". (Virat Kohli has only trained against Anushka’s balls during the lockdown).

Later, Anushka took to Instagram and posted a long note expressing disapproval over Gavaskar`s comment. She wrote: “That, Mr Gavaskar, your message is distasteful is a fact but I would love for you to explain why you thought of making such a sweeping statement on a wife accusing her for her husband`s game? I’m sure over the years you have respected the private lives of every cricketer while commenting on the game. Don`t you think you should have equal amount of respect for me and us? I`m sure you can have many other words and sentences in your mind to use to comment on my husband`s performance from last night or your words only relevant if you use my name in the process? It`s 2020 and things still don`t change for me. When will I stop getting dragged into cricket and stop being used to pass sweeping statements?”

“Respected Mr. Gavaskar, you are a legend whose name stands tall in this gentleman`s game. Just wanted to tell you what I felt when I heard you say this.”

To this Gavaskar has said neither he blamed Anushka Sharma for India captain's failure nor he has made any sexist remarks during an IPL match and his comments were being misinterpreted.

But this isn't the first time Anushka's name has been dragged and she been blamed for Kohli's poor performance. There are four more instances. I remember the ire of netizens after Virat Kohli led Indian team lost the World Cup semifinals in 2019 against New Zealand. And same as before she was at the receiving end of hate from social media users. Then in 2018, even when the RCB had won just two games at the half-mark, supporters rooted for the team with great enthusiasm. However, the team's performance was one of the worst throughout which agitated fans who again targeted Anushka for the team’s poor performances.

According to them, the Bangalore team lost every tie when the Bollywood diva made an appearance in the stands, can you believe that. Social media users also asked skipper Kohli to part ways with her saying her presence in the stadium brings bad luck to the team.

In 2018, social media users made scathing comments about actress Anushka Sharma after team India captain Kohli failed to make runs in the first innings (he registered a score of 5) of the first test during the South Africa-India Test series in Cape Town. Coincidentally, it was the first game after Kohli tied the knot with Anushka Sharma.

Anushka met with similar barrage of criticism as she was blamed for Virat’s poor performance in the 2015 ICC ODI World Cup semifinal. The now team India skipper's failure against Australia in the semi-final was fodder enough for netizens to make slanderous comments against the actress on Twitter.

Blame it on women

When the media and the people who consume it, place blame at the feet of the women in the lives of superstars, they’re sending a subtle but dangerous message that - Men have no control over their actions, because of women.

While we celebrate these sportstars for their physical abilities and mental sharpness, praise them for being superhuman, and then out of the same mouth comes this trope that they’re somehow incapable of multitasking or compartmentalising their lives. We hold them up as palpable examples of perfection, in both body and mind, marvelling at their intellect and constantly honouring their defiance of odds and taking on all comers. And yet when they show weakness or falter (yes losing a match or poor performance is considered weakness), whether on or off the field, for reasons that cannot be explained by psychology or stats or sore knees, it suddenly becomes the wife’s or girlfriend’s fault.

If a woman is viewed as “too sexy”, she is immediately considered a distraction, a diabolical Jezebel inhibiting a sportstar from properly focusing.

What it needs to be called out!

When angry fans or sports commentators opine that Anushka Sharma is the reason for Virat Kohli’s poor play, they’re essentially devaluing women — and, if we’re being honest, patronising the men as well. It’s like claiming that men are incapable of being multi-faceted human beings, with complex lives and goals beyond the narrow window of stardom.

Take for example if a man reacts to a situation in a disappointing way — be it an office-room scuffle — it’s the woman’s fault for fraying his inner wiring.

Please do not be mistaken, this is dangerous talk, under the guise of passionate fandom and clever sports-speak. It is tacit approval for a man to blame a woman for his own failures, and an acknowledgement that she is fair game to be scapegoated for events entirely beyond her control. It’s like asking a sexual assault victim what she was wearing or a domestic abuse survivor what she did to “make her man so angry.”

Such misplaced perceptions have become so ingrained within the fabric of our everyday discourse, that most people fail to notice they’re doing it at all, further feeding into a cycle blurring the lines of consent and solidifying misogyny.

As if the corrosive undertone of this woman-shaming conversation isn’t enough, one is always left wondering why — both as fans and consumers of a human product — we expect sports stars, especially men, to refrain from having, well, any life at all. If certain male sports stars, and the superstar-level ones in particular, engage in romantic relationships or start a family in the prime of their careers and then suddenly start to slump, we attack them. For what? Being in love, wanting something more, living life? Get a life people; they are humans too like you and me.

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