Sport

Why does the ECB treat women’s cricket as a niche sport?

By Antoinette Muller 7 August 2014

England and India’s women’s cricketers will contest a Test match beginning next week. But the choice of venue and the cost of access is making it feel like a niche sport, out of reach of ordinary people. An opportunity to introduce average cricket fans to the women’s game is being completely squandered. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

When it comes to the setting the standard for professionalism in women’s cricket, Australia and England are miles ahead compared to most other countries. Their women have had some sort of contract system in place for a good few years and have been afforded the luxury of careers in sport where others have lagged behind. South Africa only managed to become professional for the first time this year, with the entire women’s squad now able to earn a living solely out of cricket.

Yet, for all the propaganda the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) likes to bang on about, there is still something curious about the way they treat the longest format of the women’s game. Starting next week, England and India will contest a Test match for the first time in eight years. It’s a great thing for women’s cricket and refreshing to see women’s teams other than England and Australia playing each other. But there is one small problem. The match is not easily accessible to the general public and, when it comes to putting women’s cricket on the map, accessibility is one of the biggest stumbling blocks.

The match will be played at Wormsley Cricket Ground, a picturesque setting located over an hour’s drive out of London. It can be reached by train and then by cab, but for the average person, the whole trek is a bit of a mission. Even for journalists without cars, getting to Wormsley is a pain and a costly affair.

A return train ticket will cost over £25 per day (about R450). Then there is also the cab fare to take into account. So for four days (the length of a women’s Test), you are looking at an expense of over £100 if going by public transport.

For spectators who wish to attend, there is also the cost of the ticket fee. Pre-bought tickets will cost £12 per day while purchasing at the gate will set you back £15 per day (just under R300). For a family of three, in the current economic times, the overall expense of going to the women’s Test will work out to over £280 (over R5,000) and that is assuming they take their own picnic basket instead of purchasing food at the ground. That is not a feasible expense for the average cricket lover.

Aside from the cost of actually getting to the ground, there is also the small matter of timing. Two of the days of the Test will overlap with the men’s game against India and just one of those days is happening over the weekend. Again, for the average cricket fan – the very market that needs to be targeted when it comes to helping women’s cricket grow – it’s not a feasible option to simply take off from work or to slip away earlier and catch the last few overs.

Instead, the outing is very much being billed as a niche occasion. In essence, it is because women rarely play Tests, but to force it to be so out of reach for an ordinary person is galling. For the posh and privileged, there are hospitality packages ranging from £78 to £120, which includes food and coffee and other luxuries. This is an unnecessary exercise in ego-stroking which completely misses the point of getting women to play in these matches. The point is – or at least it should be – increasing exposure, and to do that, it needs to be accessible. The venue choice for what is a reasonably momentous occasion is confusing.

There is, for example, no match on at The Oval in London and the next Test between England India is only due to begin here until mid-August. The Oval is easily accessible for all in London and those willing to travel in. It might not feel like the “occasion” of going to Wormsley, but that’s because women’s cricket should not be made to feel like that. We cannot dispute that the game still lags behind in interest and funding, but putting it out of reach of ordinary people is not going to do the cause much good at all.

But to grow interest, people first need to watch women’s cricket. The writer of this article used to be sceptical about the whole concept of women’s cricket. The physicality needed to hit big sixes does not exist in many women; that is not sexist, it’s simply biology. However, the gear and the kit challenges the concept of traditional femininity and encourages new attitudes and different role models. Role models who are strong, confident, fit and healthy and who do not need to conform to anything we perceived as being boxed into gender-specific sports. The women might not be hitting the biggest sixes, but their classic strokeplay is textbook most of the time. While the way they approach the sport certainly is different, it is not so niche that it needs to be treated as a bit of exclusive entertainment for the select elite.

Ordinary girls and women can and want to play cricket. Ordinary girls and women can and want to watch cricket – both men and women’s – but ostracising the sport by making it impossibly accessible is not going to help the game grow. It also goes completely against the propaganda mandate of the ECB and how it continues to trumpet the importance of women’s cricket. DM

Photo: England wicket keeper Sarah Taylor runs out Sri Lanka opener Chamari Polgampola for 27 during the Women’s World Cup cricket match between England and Sri Lanka in Canberra, Australia on 07 March 2009. EPA/ALAN PORRITT

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