Drawing on the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – Choose to Challenge – cricket.com.au is exploring the strides made in the women’s game, and by women working in cricket, while also shining a light on the areas where work remains to be done.
Investment in the elite game has seen rapid progress in the professionalism of Australia’s players and it has paid off on the field, with Australia ranked No.1 in both limited-overs formats.
Their skill and athleticism is attracting new fans to the game, but Australia great Belinda Clark has cautioned that the long-term health of the game at an international level requires other countries make the same strides forward, on and off the field.
“This is a really important point, because an international game that’s lopsided has a shelf life,” Clark told The Scoop podcast last month.
“So it’s really important that everyone jumps behind it and does what they need to do from an international perspective to truly grow the game.
“The only way to do it is to hold people accountable for the decisions they make with the funds they receive. I think that’s the beauty of what the world events have brought us.
“The Women’s Championship, World Cups, it gives pinnacle events that people need to prepare for.
“They need to get the next layer of talent ready, they need to get kids playing.
“Those events have really been punches in the timescale that have allowed every nation to attach to. We need to keep growing those.
“It’s not good enough, the amount of money in cricket, that females aren’t afforded the opportunity in every country that plays the game.”
In January, the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA) released its latest Women’s Professional Cricket Global Employment Report, which also flagged a concern that the gap between the countries with the most resources (Australia, England and India) and the rest would result in a future lack of healthy on-field competition.
Reporting on data from 2018-19, it does not take into account the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the game but does provide a report card on each of the top 13 nations.
Australia was the sole country rated ‘progressive professional’ (the second highest category below ‘established professional’) in the report, while England, India, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies were ranked ‘fledgling professional’.
Key findings included:
* Roughly the same number of professional contracts were available worldwide as there was during the previous report in 2017-18, with no discernible professional structure in some countries, while others almost exclusively focus their resources on international players.
* Just 119 full-time professional contracts exist worldwide for female players, compared to 400 for men in England and Wales alone.
* A majority of players surveyed identified gender inequity as the most important issue they faced, with improvements in remuneration, facilities and coaching needed to grant them the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
Fewer than 20 per cent of governance board members worldwide are female.
* Significant obstacles remain in professional pathways with Australia, England and New Zealand the only countries offering semi-professional domestic contracts.
* The overwhelming majority of female players worldwide are forced to seek income outside of cricket
What needs to change?
England captain Heather Knight and Australia wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy contributed to the report with a shared submission, where they called on the ICC to create “more centralised funds” to help accelerate and spread the professionalisation of the game.
“As players, we understand that cricket countries around the world are in very different financial positions,” Healy and Knight wrote.
“Having said that, there needs to be equal commitment from all countries to addressing barriers, and promoting and investing in the women’s game if we are to achieve gender equity on the global stage and in individual cricket countries.
“At (the) global level, we think there is an opportunity for the ICC to prioritise increased and targeted investment in the game around the world, not just in global events.
“This could include, for example, more centralised funds to assist the professionalisation of the game in more countries and to ensure more cricket can be played.”
The pair also called for more structure in the international calendar, to ensure clear windows allowing players to compete in T20 competitions such as the Rebel WBBL, the Hundred in the UK, and eventually, a women’s Indian Premier League once introduced.
“As players we want to see a clear global structure for the game that gives everyone an easy-to-follow calendar for players and fans,” Healy and Knight wrote.
“We know that players from some of the smaller cricket countries (and the bigger ones) are starved of cricket and playing opportunities.
“There is no reason for there to be scheduling overlap between international cricket and domestic leagues around the world, and we would like to see the women’s game learn from some of the issues in the men’s game.
“Scheduling windows are an obvious way to ensure a clear structure and to prevent overlap with scheduling.”
Globally, there are exciting advancements ahead for the international game: women’s T20s will feature in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022, and the first ICC women’s Under-19 World Cup is due to be held later this year in Bangladesh.
The underage tournament was one Cricket Australia had lobbied for, and Clark hailed its arrival, believing it will drive countries to further invest in up-and-coming talent below the current international level.
“I’ve been advocating for that (the Under-19 World Cup) for about ten years, and finally we got it through at ICC level in the last strategic plan,” Clark said.
“It’s absolutely critical, it’s an absolute no-brainer for mine.
“I’m disappointed that it took that long to come out, but we’ll get there.
“Other sports do it, it works really well and I think it’ll be a wonderful event.
“What we’ll see is the emergence of a layer of talent that we just didn’t realise was there. It’ll come from places we don’t expect it to.
“It will be five or six years before the benefits of that come through, but the first event will be really special.”
However, there is the immediate pressing issue around the lack of women’s internationals being played amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As it stands, India have not played since the World Cup final, with three planned series either cancelled or postponed due to COVID19, although they are finally due to return to the field against South Africa this month.
Of the 10 competing teams from last year’s T20 World Cup, only six have played since that tournament. By contrast, each of the top 10 men’s teams have played in at least one format since the start of the pandemic.
Last month, Healy expressed concern over the lack women’s cricket being played around the globe.
“We are really aware of the perspective that there is a global pandemic at play and the opportunities that we’re going to get given might be a little bit more limited than what we’ve seen in the past,” she said.
“But I’d like to see, definitely, some international cricket popping up a bit more frequently as we move forward.”