How ABA's Inclusivity Failed Successfully
An all-trans team was proposed to the ABA shortly after owner registration forms went out. We were informed that we could not go ahead with the team: the tournament structure of having 16 teams, with 64 cis-men and 32 non cis-men left no space for a team that would have zero cis-men. This insistence on sticking to the 64-32 structure is quite unfair, and as this situation showed, it was hindering inclusivity- the explicit purpose it aims to serve. An intra university student tournament should respond to student demands and needs of the student community. An all-trans team (one without any cis men or cis women) would have been amazing for trans people, trans athletes, and sports culture not just at Ashoka but everywhere.
The solutions proposed included us being the 17th team that would bypass the auction and a team that all the team owners would separately agree to play with. The auction process itself is a dehumanizing process that replays tropes that are, among other things, gendered about perceived player value. We would be happy to bypass it, but not be singled out for this - perhaps all teams should bypass an auction process. The idea of other owners having to agree to play with us was not acceptable - this places the right to discriminate in the hands of owners and felt like an attempt for the ABA to pass the buck on discrimination to appear charitable. Talks with the organizing team involved the organizers calling our team “a great initiative”. This wording came across as strikingly condescending, especially given the decision ABA took.
The recent Edict article ‘Leveling the Playing Field: Exploring non-cis-male sporting culture at Ashoka’s Sporting Leagues’ highlights the many ways in which Ashoka’s sporting scenario falls short of its promises of inclusivity and fair play. We hope to add to the perspectives presented in this article. The article highlights how playing in this tournament has historically been an unpleasant experience for cis women, with a few tokenistic minutes of play, discouragingly low bids, and having no say in the team’s strategy. The article remarks that these are often consequences of owners working around rules formulated with the intent to promote inclusivity.
The problems that the Edict article points out and our not being able to form a team come down to the very structure of Ashoka’s sporting leagues: their imitation of corporate leagues. This has only increased in intensity over the years: the cost of owning a team increased by 2000 rupees (from 3k to 5k) in a duration of two semesters. Player sign-up fees have also increased. These restrict people from signing up. The Edict article says: “These leagues intend to create spaces for people to come together and play each other without the barrier of a skill gap or difference in experience.” However, as long as there is a sign-up fee, as long as there is a structure that mandates owners and auctions, you cannot realistically expect any working-class student to sign up - and setting up class barriers to play a sport is unacceptable in a college space. This structure can be intimidating for experienced players to sign up, let alone beginners who just want to have a go at the sport. There is no reason for an intra-college tournament to have 50,000 rupees as its prize money or have fancy sponsors. As long as this lure exists, owners and fellow team players will give time to those they think know the sport best, most often cis-men and highly experienced players.
Not only is this structure thus exclusionary because it inherently hinders people from signing up (specifically hinders non cis-men because of the reasons mentioned in the article), it stands in the way of an all-trans team, and it privileges a particular kind of basketball that centres the cis man. This is by way of its monetized and inflexible 64-32 structure: adopting the FIBA 3v3 format (as explained in the Edict article) reduces this on the court, but for that to work, you have to let us be on the court in the first place.
Even casual events related to the ABA have been inundated with an atmosphere that makes it feel like it is for a handful of cis-men. At the quiz organized by the ABA to decide the spots for the final two teams, there were barely any questions about women’s basketball (there was, interestingly, a question about who dated Kendall Jenner). Even the basketball trivia one needs to know to own a basketball team seems to be confined to a very particular kind of basketball.
It should also be noted that the reason there needs to be a rule mandating a non cis-man’s presence on the court at all times is a bioessentialist understanding of who can perform better on the court. None of this is inevitable, and being tall and/or strong might not even correlate with skill or performance on the court.
We do not mean to say that the ABA should not exist as it does. If you like, buy the merchandise and go to the matches. It has been great to see the crowd on the courts these past few days. But please note that “where basketball meets culture” takes on a very specific meaning in the design of ABA: a culture that is marked by damaging gendered and commercial constructs.
That the only university tournament that is open to all and not divided into batches or singly gendered categories is one that does not encourage basketball for basketball's sake but for commercial antics is quite disheartening. This monetized nature and rigidity to the structure are things that the organizing team and all Ashokans must think about for future editions, if not now.
This article was submitted by guest writers. Views expressed in guest pieces may be attributed only to the writers, they do not necessarily represent views of The Edict.