Lizelle Lee explains her mid-tour retirement, cites issues with weight and fitness at CSA
Weight issues forced Lizelle Lee to retire from international cricket. But did she receive adequate support?
Lizelle Lee recently opened up about her decision to retire from international cricket in the middle of South Africa’s recently concluded tour to England in an interview with the BBC’s Stumped podcast.
In the interview, Lee alleges that her weight and her appearance, not her physical fitness, deemed her unfit to play, according to Cricket South Africa (CSA).
She also says her weight is something she has struggled with for a long time and never received any support nor help from CSA to overcome it.
“I have never gotten any support from CSA with that. I mean they never asked me ‘what do you need? What can we do to help you lose weight?’ That’s something I’ve always done on my own,” Lee said in the interview.a
Dr Shuaib Manjra, CSA’s chief medical officer, spoke to Daily Maverick about the support offered to all players, admitting that players would need to reach out to their respective medical consultants to receive support.
“We would offer them whatever support they need, either via Cricket South Africa or from Saca (South African Cricketers’ Association) or from their own team. We would provide whatever support they need,” Manjra said.
“Lizelle Lee being part of the Proteas women’s team would have access to her fitness trainer, they’ve got a doctor with the team, they’ve got a physiotherapist with the team. Her first port of call would be to reach out to her team’s medical support.”
Lee has said that despite doing the required training, she has struggled with her weight for a long time.
“At the end of the day it’s what you eat, I train, I do my gym sessions. I do everything I need to do training-wise, but I don’t know, I struggle with my weight. It’s been like that for I don’t know how many years. It’s tough because emotionally it’s breaking me down.
“I just got to the point of saying, ‘you’re not thinking of my cricket skills, you’re not thinking that I made the actual running fitness, you’re just thinking about my weight and not picking me then’. Emotionally that is so draining and I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
As a woman, that breaks me. It’s probably one of the toughest things to hear is that you’re not being able to play for a team because you weigh too much.
Lee admitted that she did not meet the fitness requirements which meant that she would not have received a no-objection certificate (NOC) from CSA to play in lucrative domestic leagues around the world.
On the verge of being withdrawn from the Proteas women squad in England and being barred from playing in overseas leagues, Lee chose to retire instead.
“They were right to do that because it’s in our contract. Our contracts state that if you don’t make the fitness, they can pull your NOC.”
Lee went on to say that CSA made no effort to try to persuade her to not retire while another unnamed player also failed a fitness test a week after her but was promised an NOC.
“With the whole NOC story, they were in their right to do that and that’s 100% fine. The only thing that really got to me was a week after that, the same happened to another person and they told her they would make 100% sure her NOC will be signed off because they don’t want her to retire… When I took them on about it, they kept on telling me that we are not in the same boat,” Lee said.
Lee was required to do a fitness test before the team’s tour to England, while in South Africa.
She was required to weigh herself and do a skinfold test. She weighed herself and sent the results to the team doctor. Lee visited a biokineticist in her hometown, Ermelo, for the skinfold test later that day, but did not weigh herself again at the biokineticist.
“I’m not going to do it again because if it’s over [the limit] I won’t be eligible for the England tour.” She told the biokineticist she had recorded her weight herself.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Questions after star Proteas batter Lizelle Lee quits international cricket in middle of tour to England”
She was subsequently selected for the tour and retested on arrival in England in early July, where, according to Lee, her “skinfolds were down but the weight wasn’t even close to where I thought it would be”.
Lee, however, passed all the running fitness testing.
When asked for an explanation for her weight, Lee confirmed that her weight had not been taken nor confirmed by the biokenticist.
“The big thing that got me is that I made the fitness physically. I did the running that I had to do. Basically, I’m fit to play,” she said in the interview.
“I had this conversation with them in Ireland – because I got dropped in Ireland because of my weight as well – and I told them ‘you’re dropping me because of the way I look and how much I weigh’ and they said ‘no, we’re dropping you because you failed the fitness battery’.”
“I said: ‘Yes, okay, but if you break the fitness battery down, what did I not make? I made the fitness, the running, but I didn’t make my weight. So, you’re dropping me because of weight’.”
“As a woman, that breaks me. It’s probably one of the toughest things to hear is that you’re not being able to play for a team because you weigh too much.”
Manjra noted CSA’s fitness parameters, saying you could fail weight testing and still be eligible to play.
“The fitness test is not based purely on weight; it’s based on a number of parameters. You need to meet a very low threshold of 60% to pass the test. You have a composite score of different parameters, weight is one of them.”
“The one test you must pass is the 2km time trial, not the weight. If you pass the 2km time trial and the other tests then you’re fine, but weight is not the sole criteria. It’s a composite score set at a low level of 60% which you need to pass in order to be eligible for selection,” he said.
Good for the goose…
Lee has questioned the fitness requirements, believing she is able to produce performances on the field for the national side.
“Skills-wise, I’m not going to lose that because of fitness. I can still do the job. Yes, I don’t look the way I need to look, I know that. Personally, I know I don’t look like an athlete – it doesn’t mean I can’t do my job. I looked like this last year, and I had a brilliant year.”
Lee was awarded the International Cricket Council’s One Day International player of the year for 2021.
“I don’t feel good about myself, I don’t even look at myself in the mirror anymore because I don’t like the way I look. That just comes about because every time I’m in camp it’s always about my weight. Emotionally it just breaks a person down,” she said.
“I actually spoke to our team doctor before they dropped me in Ireland. I was like, ‘what do you want me to do? Put my finger in my mouth before testing?’
“This has been coming for a few years now, just in this past year it made it so much worse. What they don’t always understand is – especially when you’re on tour – you don’t have the facilities you have at home.”
Lee also warned against comparing the Proteas women’s team to the men’s team, stating: “They all look like athletes.”
“But at the end of the day, you can’t win [only] with a fit team. You have to win [with] a team that can score runs, take wickets and be great in the field.
“I’m not saying don’t look at fitness standards, I do think there needs to be fitness standards, but I think there’s certain ways of looking at things like weight and skinfolds, especially with women that have periods and all those sorts of things that goes along with women.”
Manjra confirmed to Daily Maverick that fitness testing is done on a player-to-player basis. “It depends on each individual. Each individual’s weight characteristics are assessed separately.
“Weight is a part of a battery of tests… You could potentially fail your weight test and still potentially pass your fitness test. Unless you fail it so dreadfully that it affects your composite score,” he said.
Had Lee not retired and potentially not received an NOC, she would not have been able to play in domestic leagues around the world and subsequently not have received a large chunk of her annual income.
“Probably one of the reasons I had to decide to retire is to make sure we don’t have that [debt] anymore. The salary from The Hundred is a little bit more than my yearly salary at CSA, not counting match fees and World Cup prize money,” she said.
When Lee made her international debut in 2013, only a few members of the Proteas national women’s team were contracted players.
“We have done well over the past few years, especially with our [national] retainers, it has gone up… before that, there was no money, there was no contract. I made choices, I studied and after I studied there was [no contracts].”
Lee is a qualified teacher.
“How was I supposed to survive without getting a salary, and I wanted to play cricket. I made loans, I did what I needed to do to survive at that time.
“The Hundred came in, the Super League before the Hundred, Big Bash, when I got all of those things, there were all of those things I needed to pay off.
“That’s the thing people don’t understand. Yes, we earn a lot of money now – a lot of money in our eyes – but they don’t understand what happened before that. That’s three, four years of debt that I had to pay off. There’s always going to be a financial factor.”
Lee will join up with the Manchester Originals in The Hundred, England’s franchise competition, at the start of August, for the second year running
She’s also been signed by the Hobart Hurricanes in Australia’s domestic T20 league, the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL).
Despite being only 30, Lee has confirmed that she does not see herself coming out of retirement anytime soon.
“At the moment, as things stand, no. I do think management needs to be changed, a few people need to change. There needs to be fairness across the board and I don’t think that will change overnight,” she stated.
Lee retires as South Africa’s highest run scorer in international T20s and the second-highest run scorer in ODIs. DM