Toxic trolling of women: Have fans become sore losers who cannot handle World Cup defeat with dignity?

After India lost to Australia in the finals of the Cricket World Cup, Vini Raman and Jessica Head, wives of Australian cricketers, were subject to online abuse. HerStory examines the lack of sportsmanship among some cricket fans and why women are becoming easy targets of online trolling.

Toxic trolling of women: Have fans become sore losers who cannot handle World Cup defeat with dignity?

Tuesday November 21, 2023,

6 min Read

On Sunday, India lost the ICC Cricket World Cup final to Australia.

It was surely a disappointment for millions of Indians who had hoped that their team would reprise the 2011 win, especially when they had a 10-match winning streak in the tournament. 

But, as they say, it all boils down to who played well on that particular day, and the better team won on Sunday. 

However, instead of accepting that the champions deserved their win, a bunch of trolls decided to target the wives of Australian cricketers Glenn Maxwell and Travis Head. 

Vini Raman and Jessica Head received hateful and disgusting direct messages (DMs) and comments on social media from online trolls. There were a few who went so far as to target Heads’ daughter with comments that make us all ashamed as Indians and cricket fans.

Vini Raman, Maxwell’s Indian-origin wife, lashed out on Instagram.

“…aaaaand cue all the hateful vile DMs. Stay classy. Can’t believe this needs to be said BUT you can be Indian and also support the country of your birth where you have been raised and more importantly the team your husband plus father of your child plays in #nobrainer. Take a chill pill and direct that outrage towards more important world issues,” she wrote in an Instagram post.  

It was not long ago that actor Anushka Sharma, wife of Indian cricketer Virat Kohli, was called "the panauti (bad luck) of Indian cricket", after India lost the World Test Championship Final in June this year. Fans online called her presence in the stadium “bad luck” for the team and said “Anushka Sharma is the worst to have happened to Indian cricket."

So, when Kohli has a bad patch and fails to score runs, it’s his wife, who is not associated with the Indian cricket team in any way, who is trolled and blamed for her husband’s performance! Conversely, would anyone blame Kohli for Sharma’s films not doing well at the box office? 

Kohli, in an Instagram post, had hit back, saying, “Shame on those people who have been having a go at Anushka for the longest time and connecting every negative thing to her. Shame on those people calling themselves educated. Shame on blaming and making fun of her when she has no control over what I do with my sport. If anything she has only motivated and given me more positivity. 

“This was long time coming. Shame on these people that hide and take a dig. And I don't need any respect for this post. Have some compassion and respect her. Think of how your sister or girlfriend or wife would feel if someone trolled them and very conveniently rubbished them in public. #nocompassion#nocommonsense.”

Ironically, during the recently concluded World Cup, the same wife was applauded for being by her husband’s side, during most of the matches, with fans going “aww” at their flying kisses and calling her “his strength”. 


Misogyny and lack of sportsmanship

This not only shows how hypocritical our society is but also turns the spotlight on the deep-rooted misogyny and lack of sportsmanship among certain sections of the public. 

Why is it so difficult for some cricket fans to understand that winning and losing are all part of the game and it is foolish to link a cricketer’s on-field performance to his spouse? Are online trolls sore losers who cannot handle defeat with grace?

In a country where cricket is almost a religion, it is understandable that emotions run high, but there can be no excuse for the despicable behaviour of people who target women in the most disgusting way possible, with rape threats and foul language! 

Why are women becoming easy targets for assigning blame for men’s failure? Is it because it’s easy to blame a woman—in the wrongful belief that she has a bigger influence on what a man does in his personal or professional life? 

Cricket lovers HerStory spoke to are disgusted by the turn of events after the World Cup. 

Aathira Ayyappan, an account director in communications, minces no words when she says, “Wives of cricketers have been the unfortunate targets of cricket trolls for a while now. What is infuriating is the fact that whenever a cricketer achieves something, it is rare for anyone, even the media, to point out the role played by his better half. 

“But whenever something negative is discussed, the women become easy targets. It is misogyny playing out in the vilest way ... Guess sportsmanship cannot be expected from everyone!”

Aparna Jadhav, a PR professional, says it’s perplexing why women, particularly partners, are subject to intense scrutiny. 

“Rarely do we witness male counterparts facing such unfounded criticism based on their partner's performance. Such actions are symptomatic of a deep-seated gender bias that we must actively combat,” she says, adding that the spotlight must squarely remain on the game and the players alone.

“Constructive criticism regarding performance is acceptable and part of the sporting discourse, but dragging personal lives into the arena is not only unjust but also unacceptable. Partners, families, and friends should not be collateral damage in the pursuit of fandom,” she says.

kohli, glen

Love for a sport and its players must translate to respect and positive admiration, and not repulsive behaviour. Virat Kohli and Glenn Maxwell have great respect for each other, and fans would do well to embrace this trait. Image credit: ICC

Targeting women during the World Cup wasn’t restricted to social media alone, some of it seemed to have spilled into the commentary box as well. 

During the final–when the camera panned towards Athiya Shetty (wife of cricketer KL Rahul) and Anushka Sharma–former cricketer Harbhajan Singh, who was in the Hindi commentary box, remarked, “Aur yeh main soch raha tha ki baat cricket ki ho rahi hai ya filmon ki. Kyunki cricket ke barein mein toh janta nahi kitni samajh hogi (And I was wondering whether the conversation is happening about cricket or films. Because I am not sure how much understanding they have about cricket).” 

Perhaps Singh smugly assumed that the women (wives) didn’t know much about cricket and would have been talking about films.

Focusing on the incident, Sandy Khanda, a social and climate activist, calls upon Singh to publicly apologise to Sharma and Shetty.

An apology will build a culture of accountability and respect within the public sphere. It is a call for reflection, growth, and setting a positive example for fans and fellow public figures alike,” he says.

He also points out that India has been long dominated by a traditional, male-centric mindset, making women easy targets. 

Need for respect and dignity

Love for a sport and its players must translate to respect and positive admiration, and not unhealthy obsession and repulsive behaviour.

Vile threats, especially of rape and bodily harm, cannot be taken lightly and must be dealt with in the strictest way possible. 

“Let us collectively redirect our love for cricket into a positive force that fosters respect and appreciation. The call is for a sports culture where gender doesn’t dictate the terms of judgement and where everyone involved, regardless of gender, receives the respect they deserve,” appeals Jadhav.

As the dust of the World Cup settles, Team India will take time to reflect on their campaign. It is also time for us Indian fans to reflect upon our collective behaviour and examine our role as sports lovers.

Edited by Swetha Kannan