In Kenya, Cricket Players Go to Bat for Women

A new documentary reveals how a male sports team combines training techniques with social activism.

(Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Jul 15, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

With a certain level of celebrity comes a certain amount of influence. While many professional athletes lend their names to sports drinks and expensive footwear, cricket stars in Kenya are leveraging their celebrity to overhaul their society’s treatment of girls and women.

The recently released documentary Warriors explores how the male members of the Masai cricket team use their popularity among the seminomadic community to educate their peers. Along with promoting wildlife conservation and safe sex, the team is on a mission to end female genital mutilation.

“We are not saying we abandon all our good culture—only the harmful practices such as female genital mutilation,” said Maasai Cricket Warriors team captain Sonyanga Ole Ngais at the film’s London premiere on Monday.

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Part of the team’s popularity stems from its ability to bring Masai culture to the English sport, such as by wearing traditional red shawls and bright beaded necklaces during games instead of cricket whites or the standard team uniforms favored by other teams.

The sport has gained popularity among the Masai since South African expatriate and cricket enthusiast Aliya Bauer introduced the sport to Kenya in 2007. Players’ growing status and esteem have provided them with a platform to speak about issues they believe need addressing.

“In our society, the women or the girls are treated as inferior, and it’s no good,” said Ole Ngais. Training sessions in local schools and villages allow the players to instill new values in an impressionable generation in a non-didactic way through teaching a sport.

So, Why Should You Care? By teaching young boys, who often view the players as heroes and role models, that FGM is harmful and outdated, the Maasai Cricket Warriors create a culture in which refusing the dangerous practice is accepted. Some girls choose to undergo FGM—which can lead to infertility, infection, and even death—out of fear that not doing so will make them undesirable for marriage.

Although FGM was outlawed in Kenya in 2011, it is common among Masai communities as part of a rite of passage that ushers girls into womanhood. The community’s patriarchal structure regards male elders as the primary decision makers on such matters. As many as 73 percent of Masai women have undergone the procedure, according to a 2013 study.

“It is very hard to go against the elders,” said Ole Ngais, “but cricket is giving us that courage, and that confidence.”