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The new SA professional women’s league is a game changer

The new SA professional women’s league is a game changer
DP World Lions players Kgomotso Rapoo and Samantha Schutte celebrate winning their CSA Women's Provincial T20 Cup top-6 match against Six Gun Grill Western Province at the Orban Oval in Johannesburg on 2 April 2023. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

The Proteas women will earn the same match fees as the Proteas men – a massive equity milestone that puts South Africa in an exclusive club with India and New Zealand.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) made sporting history on 22 August when it announced the formation of a professional women’s league. It is the first of its kind, across sporting codes, in the country.

At the beginning of the year – when South Africa hosted the T20 Women’s World Cup – the Proteas women became the first South African senior cricket side to reach a World Cup final.

The team’s historic feat, which culminated in an unfortunate defeat to serial world champions Australia, was a key catalyst for a massive milestone in gender equity in the country: the first professional women’s sports league in South Africa.

The announcement of the new structure was made at the Freedom Park Museum in Tshwane on Tuesday 22 August.

The event included another historic announcement – from now on the Proteas women will earn the same match fees as the Proteas men.

“That’s a major development and a major progression to equality in sports, because there are very few countries that have done that,” Andrew Breetzke, CEO of the South African Cricketers’ Association (Saca), told Daily Maverick.

The South African cricketing fraternity joins New Zealand and India in paying their international players the same match fees, across formats. The news also comes in the wake of the International Cricket Council’s announcement in early 2023 that prize money for men’s and women’s teams at their events will be on par.

The Proteas women have fought for this moment – doing most of their talking on the field, with each generation of internationals feeding off the strides of those who came before them.

Since evolving into a professional outfit in 2015, South Africa’s senior women’s cricket side has reached four semifinals – in the T20 World Cups and 50-over editions. The hope is that, with a professional domestic league, they can finally push for gold.  

“With the success of South African cricket on the global stage, we believe that this will be a stepping stone for local talent. That it will create an environment that fosters growth, resilience and a deep love for the sport,” said Pholetsi Moseki, CEO of the CSA.

The new SA’s professional women’s league is a game changer

Fidelity Titans’ Lesedi Madisha bowls during a CSA Women’s Provincial T20 Cup top-6 match against North West Dragons in Hammanskraal on 5 February 2023. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

Domestic structure

Six domestic sides will be the initial beneficiaries of the new structure. They are the Titans, Lions, Dolphins, Western Province, Free State and Garden Route Badgers.

All are part of Division One in the domestic hierarchy.

However, with there being a promotion and relegation system in place, none will have an opportunity to rest on their laurels. The 10 second-tier sides that occupy Division Two will be hungry for a piece of the pie. Under the semi-professional setup that is now being phased out, in the top tier only six players could be contracted. With the new league, 11 will have permanent employment as cricketers.

As well as earning a minimum of R180,000 a year, the players will get benefits that previously eluded them, such as medical aid and a provident fund.

“I look at today, and compare it to where we come from – with limited resources. But we had the vision to get us to this point,” CSA’s head of Cricket Pathways, Edward Khoza, told Daily Maverick.

“It shows that whatever we were planning for 10 years back has come to fruition. It shows that even without resources, you can have a dream.

Hard work

“The hard work starts now. We need to define this professionalism. The day I will accept that we have reached the highest level of professionalism is when I don’t have to worry about the pipeline. When the next generation of players are just spilling through,” Khoza added.

His sentiments were echoed by Saca, with Breetzke saying: “The great weakness we’ve had in our women’s game is the lack of a pipeline into the Proteas women.

“So we used to have the Proteas women and then [domestically] different levels of amateur cricket [to feed the Proteas].

“Now we have a professional league. And there’s money behind it.”

Though an official starting date, as well as a fixture list, is still to be confirmed, the top six teams will compete in a one-day international and a 20-over competition throughout the season.

Fertile ground

In a country where people can barely afford a loaf of bread, let alone a cricket bat or spikes, the impact of women having another career path to sustain their families may prove to be huge in the long term.

However, even with this, much work remains to be done to grow the women’s game and make it truly financially viable, to create an environment where pay parity is achieved across the board – especially as the gap between retainer contracts for men and women remains massive at the inter­national level. 

“All other cricket [in the country] is effectively supported by the Proteas men. So that matrix has to change. Because as long as one team is creating 90% of the revenue, it’s skewed. And those players end up having bigger retainers,” Breetzke said.

“With this league and the success of the Proteas at the Women’s World Cup … we’re hoping that that will result in more significant broadcast rights, sponsorships and more. Which, in turn, will assist in creating more equality around remuneration, across the board.”

Trendsetters

The league is reportedly set to cost CSA about R40-million over the three years they were initially planning to roll it out. They cut that timeline to six months, though. The Department of Sports, Arts and Culture will contribute R15-million to the cause. 

“Every journey has a beginning. I’m sure other federations will learn from what the CSA has done. When I was appointed, I met with the top five federations. We read them the riot act about a vision. At the centre of what we discussed was the is­­sue of women in sport. And our contribution as a de­­partment,” Minister of Sport Zizi Kodwa told journalists.

“We hope that as we continue to engage with them, sorting out other problems, they learn from [CSA].” DM

This article first appeared in our Daily Maverick weekly newspaper, DM168, which is available countrywide for R29.

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