An Indian footballer has been criticized by fans for a sexist comment he made after his club drew an Indian Super League (ISL) match over the weekend.
“I have played a match with women,” Sandesh Jhingan said in a short video shot as he was leaving the ground. He apologised a day later after the comparison – which implies women players are inferior – drew a backlash. But rival fans have flooded his Instagram page with anger and abuse. A lot of the abuse, ironically, is sexist in nature and some of it has even been aimed at his wife.
Jhingan, who is also the vice-captain of the Indian football team, plays for the club ATK Mohun Bagan. After the team drew 2-2 with the Kerala Blasters on Saturday night, Jhingan was caught on camera saying “I have played a match with women, with women”. The 11-second video was uploaded to Mohun Bagan’s Instagram page and then deleted, reports say. But a version of it soon started circulating online and drew flak.
It is unclear from the video who the comments were aimed at and what the context was – some have interpreted it to be directed at Jhingan’s own teammates while fans of Kerala Blasters say it was directed at their team. Jhingan tweeted on Sunday that the comment was made “in the heat of the moment”. He also denied that it was directed at the Kerala Blasters – his erstwhile team for whom he had played for six years, from 2014 to 2020.
After he left Kerala Blasters, the club had retired his number 21 jersey as a tribute to his contribution. “What you hear is an argument I had with my teammate after the game. What I said was a result of the disappointment for not winning the game. I told my teammate not to make excuses, so anyone taking my comment differently is only doing it to tarnish my name,” Jhingan said in his apology.
But angry fans of the Kerala Blasters have refused to accept this explanation – while they insist that Jhingan was wrong to make the comparison, many also argued that their players were insulted by being compared with women. Many of them have left abusive comments on Jhingan’s Instagram page in Malayalam language, which is spoken in Kerala state.
Others have also taken issue with a part of his apology where he invoked his female relatives to argue that he has always been respectful of women. Some fans have also supported him, saying too much was being made of a throwaway comment. Attitudes towards women in sport have been slowly changing in India – especially after their performance at the recent Olympics- but several still face prejudice and structural barriers.
Women footballers in India have publicly spoken about the challenges of playing the sport.
In 2019, Indian footballer Dalima Chhibber recalled seeing sexist comments under a photo of her and a teammate after the national team won their fifth South Asian Football Federation Women’s Cup.
“I read a few comments that said, ‘What will they do when they come back? They will just return home and manage the household chores… Another guy commented, go back and start cooking food for your family and stuff like that,” she said.