New Delhi: As the self-righteous moral brigade expresses outrage against the presence of cheerleaders at Indian Premier League (IPL) matches, the franchisees of various teams are unfazed and say their detractors are looking for "cheap publicity".
"The whole controversy is irrelevant. Frankly speaking, it is a trivial issue and doesn't deserve the attention it is getting. All those creating such a big ruckus are looking for publicity and the least we can do is not to allow them to get away with it," Charu Sharma, CEO of the Bangalore Royal Challengers, told IANS.
The American concept of cheerleaders at sporting events has been replicated here to add a dash of glamour and entertainment, but many Indians say it’s vulgar and obscene.
West Bengal Sports Minister Subhas Chakraborty questioned the presence of cheerleaders on the cricket field.
"I cannot understand the necessity of cheer girls at the IPL matches. I am not against any new concept, but Kolkatans are not yet ready for cheer girls. I personally do not support this kind of westernisation in the name of entertainment," he said.
While politicians in Maharashtra want a ban on cheerleading, police in Mumbai say they have no objection to cheerleaders performing at the matches provided they swap their short skirts and low-cut tops for more conservative gear.
However, Niel Maxwell, CEO of Kings XI Punjab, finds nothing wrong with the cheerleaders' outfits.
"I fail to understand the difference in what we see in Bollywood movies and music videos and what the cheerleaders are wearing during the matches. The whole issue is needlessly blown out of proportion," he said.
Sharma added: "India is a multicultural society. Who is to decide what suits our culture and what does not? Cheerleaders are there to cheer and set the momentum of the game. It happens all over the world to the highest level of the game. I see nothing wrong in it."
Actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha says cheerleaders are making a mockery of cricket. However, other actors in the film fraternity do not share his viewpoint.
"What is the harm with the cheer girl's performance," asked another Bollywood actor, Anupam Kher. "I see nothing wrong in it. And why this hue and cry when so many other things seem to be overlooked by our leaders and the people?"
TV star and dancer Suha Chandran has a different take. She feels that it is stupid to debate a frivolous issue. "I personally feel as long as you get a good game of cricket these sideshows don't really matter."
She added that people must be prepared for all these pluses and minuses coming with IPL.
But for women activists, the protests over the cheerleaders have not come as a surprise.
"These protests are not unexpected. Cricket is a national passion, something with which people here identify with. So it is important that we keep the cultural sensitivity of people in mind and not hurt it," said Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research (CSR), a Delhi-based NGO.
"At the end of the day it is the display of the women's body on the cricket field. In fact, how would it feel if the cricketers were made to play in shorts," she asked.
Although B. Vanchi, director of GMR Sports, roots for cheerleaders, he feels that in India one needs to ensure that any western concept gels with its culture.
"India is culturally a very sensitive country. So when one brings in a relatively new concept, some resistance is bound to be there. But for those who have objections to short dresses, I would only like to say that even lots of sportswomen wear short dresses. They don't always cover themselves fully," Vanchi said.
"Having cheerleaders is not a bad idea. They are a part of the game the world over and keep the crowd inspired. It is fun. From our side what we can ensure is that nothing vulgar is shown," he added.
As for players, none of the Indians seem to have any qualms about cheerleaders. However, Pakistani player Shahid Afridi thinks the women are a distraction on the field. But his skipper Shoaib Malik insists his focus is on cricket whether or not cheerleaders are on the field.