Sport

Cricket: Breaking the glass ceiling of the gentleman’s game

By Antoinette Muller 10 October 2013

What used to be a sport and industry more suitable for men is changing perceptions, and South Africa seems to be setting the bar. Cricket South Africa has helped to turn the tide by awarding six women with national contracts for the first time ever. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Cricket is a gentleman’s game, or so they say. There are, however, an increasing number of women who not only play the game, but who play a vital role in ensuring the teams who are adored by many are being run properly. More and more women are writing about it, and slowly but surely the idea that there’s no place for women in a man’s world of sport is being abolished.

Cricket South Africa has made a historic move in awarding six women with national contracts, the first time in the institution’s history that this has happened. This means that players like Mignon du Preez, who scored a double century in a 40-over game as a 12-year-old, can now focus on just playing cricket instead of having to find a job which will allow her to sneak away for training.

It means that the women who love the sport as much as their male counterparts can focus just on cricket and live their dreams. It’s a massive leap forward for women’s cricket in the country, but that’s not the only place where the notion of cricket being a men’s game is being blown out of the water.

An increasing number of women are now employed both by CSA and at domestic level by the franchises.

Andra Nel is one of those women. Over the last three years, which she has spent working at the Lions, she has built a reputation for herself as being one of the most hard-nosed marketing and media relations managers in the industry. Her love for the game has shone through and her quest to make the team more accessible to both fans and media is endearing.

Nel started at the bottom, working with Jacques Faul at Senwes Park in Potchefstroom during her student days. With a business science degree in marketing, cricket wasn’t quite where she thought she’d end up.

“While working with Jacques I just fell in love with the game. It took three years at North West before I moved to the Lions, but there are always opportunities and it’s always worth it,” Nel told the Daily Maverick.

There is a concern that women have to work harder to prove themselves, especially in a game like cricket, and while Nel admits some prejudice exists, she believes that a new generation of leaders are realising that there is a niche role for women to play when it comes to cricket.

“I think the big thing is that it’s not a traditional sport for women; we have to be honest about that. There will always be people who stereotype, which does make it harder, but things are changing. There’s a new generation of leaders who understand that women play a very specific role,” she added.

Nel believes that it’s within the commercial aspect of the game where women can really thrive, there where attention to detail is of the utmost importance.

“I think women are really good at the finer details, and we bring a different perspective to the table. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you have to work damn hard to make it in cricket. I think some people expect it to come to them a bit too easily,” she adds.

Because professional sport is still relatively new in South Africa, a whole host of opportunities exist since there are so many things which haven’t been done or explored in the country yet. Marketing, social media, mobile marketing and everything that goes hand in hand in the digital age is only just being explored by sports teams, and it’s these kinds of roles where women can really snuggle into.

Some might say that it’s condescending to try and pigeonhole females into these types of roles, but it’s the kind of jobs where the female perspective really makes a difference, believes Nel. Having just returned from India, Nel reckons South Africa are miles ahead in terms of empowering women in the sport, but the signs are there that the discrimination is starting to diminish.

“We’re so far ahead in terms of empowering women, but it’s starting to catch on in India. I met a few great women while I was there and to see that there is a place for women in cricket worldwide was great,” she said.

Several of the current national teams employ women as their media liaisons, while a number of IPL franchises have powerful women on board as either owners or consultants. While many industries struggle to break the glass ceiling for females, it’s being shattered in cricket as the sport increasingly becomes geared to focusing on entertainment.

In her role at the Lions, Nel strives to find the balance between selling sport as an entertainment package and keeping the integrity of the game.

“We’re in the entertainment industry and sport and finding that balance is important. The product we’re selling is competing.”

It seems like a glamorous lifestyle, traveling across the world and mingling with players, getting to know sports stars and having them on speed dial, but it does involve a lot of hard work, and behind the scenes efforts which often go unnoticed. What is evident, though, is that women like Nel and the others who are trailblazing for generations to come are certainly shattering perceptions – and South Africa is miles ahead of the curve. DM

Photo: England’s Charlotte Edwards (L) hugs teammate Katherine Brunt after England won the second womens T20 international against Australia and secured the Ashes at the Rose Bowl cricket ground, Southampton August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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