Just Not Cricket: When Will Our Sportswomen Have Equality?

By Moira Boyle.
Edited by Jessica Sutton.

“It’s just not cricket”.
This is an old saying coming from the sport of cricket, regarded as the “gentleman’s” game where fair play was paramount. It has come to mean almost any situation where someone is disadvantaged, treated unjustly, or subject to decisions that are simply unfair and inequitable. Alas, fair play has never been extended to women in cricket, or in any sport. From basic disregard for women’s sporting achievements to the extremes of actively banning women from partaking in certain sports, historically, the governing bodies have been at pains to disadvantage sportswomen.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) came under fire after it emerged that it paid for the international men’s teams to fly business class to compete in the 2016 World T20 in India while their female counterparts, also representing their countries at the highest level, were in economy seating.[1] To justify such a decision the governing body seemed to think it was enough to say “we simply can’t afford it” – leaving us all to infer that, if it’s not a case of first come first served, then the men’s teams must somehow be deemed more worthy or deserving.

In fact, the ICC does think the men are more worthy, because they generate more revenue. Yet, one would think the ICC might be able to join the dots here. If they are not willing to treat their women players equally in all respects, then how can they expect the sponsors and the match-going fans to take the women’s game seriously. The women’s game not being taken seriously by its own governing body equals no growth in revenue – it is a catch 22 that is fixable with genuine equality.

Cricket Australia (CA) laudably dipped into their own coffers and upgraded their women cricketers to business class for the 2016 tournament. CA also seemed to understand the notion that treating its female players better, would grow the women’s game. In 2017, Australia’s women cricketers were given a new pay deal, the total female payments were raised from $7.5 million to $55.2 million, with the minimum retainer for an Australian representative sitting at $72,076 and expected to rise to over $87,000 in 2022. While the men will still earn considerably more, for many women this means they no longer need to juggle employment with cricket – cricket can actually be their employment.[2] In NZ cricket currently, we have 17 White Ferns on professional contracts, with a base salary of $44,000 to $64,000 plus match fees. The Black Caps’ retainers start at $100,000 plus match fees.

There has been some progress on the financial front with the ICC announcing that the prize money pool for the 2020 Women’s World Cup would increase by a whopping 320 per cent compared to the 2018 tournament, with the winners sharing $1m and the runners-up $500,000. This is still well below what the men could expect to receive. Tournament hosts Cricket Australia vowed to boost the winning pot with a further $600,000 if Australia won.

The Australian governing body’s chief executive Kevin Roberts said in a statement: “We want to continue our commitment to equality by ensuring that any prize money earned by the Australian women’s team in the T20 World Cup is the same as what is on offer in the men’s side of the tournament. This will include matching the prize money for the final, semi-finals, or group stage.”[3] Subsequently, at this year’s T20 final not only were Australia crowned world champions, but more importantly this occurred in front of a crowd of over 86,000 spectators. The ICC no longer have the excuse of women’s cricket not being lucrative if a crowd of that magnitude turn out to watch them.

And it is not just cricket where sportswomen suffer serious financial disadvantage. There continues to be huge disparity in the financial rewards based on gender in other sports. Women’s soccer has grown in popularity exponentially and the global viewing audience for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is estimated to have reached one billion. Yet, earnings and prize money are a fraction of the men’s game. In October 2018, FIFA announced that it was doubling the total prize money at the Women’s World Cup from $15 million to $30 million. The male teams at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia competed for a staggering $400 million.[4]

FIFA, of course, are a predominately male organisation consisting of a president and 9 vice presidents all being men, and one woman as general secretary. Undoubtedly, the men’s game has developed over the last 100 years and generates huge revenue. But we can only wonder where the women’s game might be now, had the men of England’s Football Association not banned women from playing football in 1921. It took almost 50 years to get that overturned and undoubtedly put women’s soccer on the back foot.[5]

Meanwhile, the NZ Black Caps team shared $3 million for being runners up in 2019 Cricket World Cup final. Compare that to the Netball World Cup 2019 where the NZ Silver Ferns received absolutely nothing from the organisers other than their winner’s medals. That’s right, not one dollar for becoming the world champions. There was, unsurprisingly, a public outcry in NZ which seemed to shame the sponsors of the event into having a last-minute whip-round and each of the players received $25,000 for their outstanding achievement. This is about an 8th of the prize money each of the Black Caps received for coming second.

Leaving money aside, there has been some progress made towards acknowledging outstanding achievements by sportswomen. In 2018 FIFA finally decided to award a Ballon d’Or for the best female footballer. Norway International and Lyon striker Ada Hegerberg was the very worthy winner of the inaugural award. As she stepped up to receive the ultimate individual award, the event’s co-host Martin Solveig, a French DJ, asked her “Do you know how to twerk?”.

Fortunately for FIFA, Ms Hegerberg remained as composed as she does in front of goal, and took this appalling man’s “joke” in her stride. Later she was heard to say “what a man’s world it is”. Although she didn’t formally complain and insisted she was just glad to win, it is hard to imagine that it  didn’t detract from her elation at receiving this award. What right did that man think he had to spoil her moment? Why did that man feel entitled to reduce this exceptional sportswoman to a sexual object? The answer of course is that’s probably how he sees all women. After all he didn’t ask the men’s Ballon d’Or recipient Luca Modrić if he could twerk. Ms Hegerberg continued to stand up for herself and other sportswomen by refusing to play for the Norwegian team in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, citing her home country’s poor treatment of women’s sport as the reason behind her decision.[6]

And New Zealand sport this year? At this year’s NZ Halberg awards, we had the unusual occurrence where, in the Team of the Year category, 4 of the 5 finalists were female teams, with the Black Caps being the only male team to earn a nomination. 2019 was a disappointing year for men’s rugby and the NZ cricketers were pipped to the Cricket World Cup by England. However, the Black Ferns Women’s Sevens were world series champions, the Silver Ferns were world netball champions, and the world champion women’s rowing eight and the world champion women’s rowing double of Olivia Loe and Brooke Donoghue, were all finalists for the team award. Any of those teams would have been worthy recipients of the top award, but I can’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been had the Black Caps won their final.

The fight is very much not over, when it comes to women’s sporting achievements being under-valued when compared with men’s. I hope that one day we will have a level playing field in all aspects of women’s sport; the level playing field that our inspirational sportswomen deserve, and that is so very long overdue.

About the Author:
Moira Boyle left England to travel the world in 1980, fell in love with New Zealand along the way and made it her home. She remains an avid traveller and is passionate about raising awareness of women’s rights, nutrition, and mental health. She intends to contribute regularly to She’s Right, to share the benefit of her experience with young women and men everywhere.

[1] https://thespinoff.co.nz/sports/21-03-2016/men-in-business-class-women-in-economy-a-tale-of-two-t20-world-cups/

[2] https://www.news.com.au/sport/cricket/alyssa-healy-defends-pay-divide-in-australian-cricket/news-story/631949e8d81427c7f4f054839487b911

[3] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-15/cricket-australia-to-top-up-t20-prize-money-for-women/11604808

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/06/11/the-gender-pay-gap-at-the-fifa-world-cup-is-370-million-infographic/#4ba8bdd22751

[5] https://www.historyextra.com/period/first-world-war/1921-when-football-association-banned-women-soccer-dick-kerr-ladies-lily-parr/

[6] https://the18.com/soccer-news/ada-hegerberg-womens-world-cup

Picture: Mithali Raj Truro 2012.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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