Thursday, August 11, 2011

The current state of Indian cheerleading

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While writing about the new Elite Football League of India (EFLI) I ended the post with a toss-off line about being willing to act as a cheerleader consultant for the new league if they needed one. This got me wondering -- what is the state of Indian cheerleading these days?

Let it never be said that, as a dedicated internet journalist, once presented a lead I won't follow it to the ends of the Earth. Or, failing that, at least do a couple of Google searches and slap together a post in which I pawn myself off as an expert on the subject matter. 

It turns out that Indian cricket teams have recently added cheerleading squads, and with the cheer girls have come quite a bit of controversy.

This all started in 2008 when the wealthy and flamboyant  new owner of the Bangalore Royal Challengers imported the Washington Redskins cheerleading squad to be featured at the opening match of the Indian Premier League season. They were well received -- at least by the male fans -- and plans were to have locals audition for cheeleader slots for the teams.

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However, while looking at the pictures you may notice that the cheerleaders are rather blonde and white-skinned and don't seem to be ethnic Indians at all. 

That's because the consensus of opinion is that the cheer girls are tramps, they apparently hold the social status of bar girls, and that the local girls are to modest try out for the squads? 

Wait... aren't Indian bar girls, Indians?

Regardless of the answer to that question, Indian cheerleader squads are composed of Western girls from the U.S., Australia and South Africa. As you can see, their costumes are also rather less revealing than American cheerleading uniforms. 

Still, in spite of their popularity with that fans and steps taken to tone down their costumes, tut-tutting cricket purists object to them sullying the sport. Even more adamantly opposed to the cheerleading squads are conservative religious groups in India. As Kanishk Tharoor of the Guardian reports:

From the inception of the IPL, much of the opposition to cheerleading has come from conservative religious groups, who staged heated demonstrations in 2008 when the dancers first took to the IPL stage. Even this year, a rightwing group in the coastal state of Orissa demanded that matches staged there should eschew cheerleaders altogether. While this species of angry conservative austerity may be getting noisier in India, its prudishness is familiar to us all. Social conservatism the world over shares a strange mix of sanctimony and prurience, the mingled terror of and obsession with the flesh.

You'll have to forgive him for getting carried away in his last sentence -- he is a writer for the Guardian after all.

Gabriella Pasqualotto
The controversy only intensified in May of this year when the South African Gabriella Pasqualotto, a cheerleader for the Mumbai Indians, got tossed off the squad when it was discovered she was the writer of the The Secret Diary of an IPL Cheerleader

In it she writes about late night parties with players and gossips about the cheer girls and players. Here is sample of the scandalous goings-on she talked about:

By the end of a crazy evening, a certain someone had played kissing catchers with three girls known to me only, although he has his own girlfriend back home. He cooed to each girl, “Come home with me, I just want to cuddle!"
Kissing catchers, cooing and cuddling? I wonder what they make of Linday Lohan? At any rate, you need not worry about Gabriella, she's parlayed her problems into a series of appearances and recently landed a role in a major Bollywood film.

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