A new report [here – PDF] from the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations – the international branch of the English Professional Cricketers’ Association, the Australian Cricketers’ Association, and their equivalents throughout the cricketing world – surveys the growing professionalisation of the women’s game globally, concluding that although “huge strides” have been made recently, there is much work still to do.
The report worries that Australia and England are pulling away from ‘the rest’ as the game moves into a professional era, and that this needs to be addressed.
As FICA Board Member Lisa Sthalekar writes in her introduction:
“For the game to excel at a global level and allow players to play on an even playing field and ensure competitive balance, minimum standards need to be enforced in terms of playing opportunities and pathways.”
The report states that there are only around 120 fully professional players globally – essentially, the nationally contracted squads of Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies (ie. the ICC Championship sides, less Sri Lanka) – with about a further 200 semi-professionals on top of that, playing in the WBBL/WNCL and KSL.
Interestingly, the report therefore calls out the fact that players in Australia’s domestic comps continue to fall short of the mark required for them to be considered full time pros – i.e. not needing secondary jobs to carry them through the year. Despite repeated claims to the contrary – e,g, this piece on ABC News from 2016 “NSW Breakers become first fully professional women’s team in Australia” – the reports concludes that WBBL/WNCL offers “a reasonable semi-professional base wage” but not a fully professional one!
However, the report also acknowledges that this far exceeds the situation with the only other semi-professional domestic competition anywhere else – the Kia Super League:
“With 6 teams and 15 contracted players per team the KSL does provide earning opportunities for those below national level but not sufficient to avoid the need for supplementary income or dual careers.”
The report then goes on to also damn the KSL for “inconsistency in facilities, pitches, coaching standards, and accommodation provision” albeit acknowledging that there are current proposals to address this via The 100.
Overall the report concludes that most (89%) of the players surveyed remain optimistic about the future of the game, but bearing in mind that the players surveyed were largely members of FICA-affiliated associations, this is perhaps a little misleading – they are mainly the lucky ones playing international cricket, not those toiling away unpaid in the lower reaches of the domestic game.
For them, the report challenges the game to do better – to move away from insecure, short-term contracts; and to invest in improved coaching and medical support, better playing facilities, and extended welfare and education support.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, FICA advocates that part of the solution is improved player representation – it is after all their raison d’être! But it genuinely is worrying that in England for example, only the centrally-contracted England players have such representation in the form of the Professional Cricketers’ Association. If the PCA don’t want them (and the evidence suggests they don’t) then a “Semi-Professional Cricketers’ Association” would be a powerful voice for a somewhat marginalised, yet very significant group – KSL (and down the road, The 100) couldn’t happen without them – perhaps it is time they looked to themselves to leverage that power?
Agreed the semi-pro’s should take a long hard look at the contract for the 100 before signing up and this might requires some solidarity from the pro’s but there is a bigger picture to consider.
The longevity of the game depends upon a financial structure that filters down to the grassroots.
Part of the problem is, of course, that the BCCI, CA and the ECB hold the whip hand since the media are not yet paying good enough money, or any at all, to make the women’s game a going concern in its own right. So in England and Wales, say, the ECB is the “hand that feeds them” that the cricketers would be loath to bite. In the men’s game, since Packer onwards, the media popularity of the game gives the PCA power.
I’d love it if a SPCA could scrutinise and negotiate contracts for the women but… I am not sure it will happen yet.
I think Palfreyman sums it up well.
Speaking purely from an English perspective, we are obviously ahead of most other countries. For some, there is a lot more to do, but they at least have Australia and England as examples to follow and to use as pointers when negotiating with their Boards.
The *next step* here is a massive one, though. The ECB’s commitment to a fully professional England squad of 20 (ish) was a common sense move and sponsorship/TV deals covers a good proportion of the cost. Ditto to some extent the KSL, although it’s clear that the Hundred (if it really must come to that) MUST go further.
Outside that, for the foreseeable future, it’s very difficult to see further moves towards professionalism. Where will the money come from? Is it conceivable that a First Class County might fully subsidise it’s women’s team, and integrate them into the County Cricket Club, as opposed to the County Board? I can’t see it, particularly as the “wealthy” Counties will be the ones presumably channelling women’s funding into their Hundred franchises.
And, as an aside, what of the non-First Class Counties?
I am convinced the women’s game in England will continue to grow as things stand, but regrettably and realistically we are some way from a tipping point which would enable a giant leap forward in terms of wider funding.
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As an afterthought, one of the keys right now must be an emphasis on Talent ID in County age group cricket, so that those Under 15s and Under 17s with genuine potential are brought into the Regional Development Centres and “hot-housed” so that they are “KSL-Ready” when places open up, rather than left too long just playing County cricket which will not toughen them up. I know this is already happening but I’ve no idea how effective or thorough it is at not letting good ‘uns slip through the net.
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