The ECB cannot afford to fail as the women’s cricket world experiences further upheaval, according to Raf Nicholson.
The June 2023 release of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) report was alarming due to its thoroughness: it revealed the pervasive issue of institutional sexism in cricket. The report was scathing in its assessment of the culture within first-class counties, citing “violent and degrading behavior” towards female employees. One individual recounted having to lock themselves in their office to escape sexual harassment from male cricketers, while another was derogatorily referred to as “an ‘effing butch” by a coworker when discussing gender equality.
This is how county cricket operates in the 21st century. Given this, the recent announcement by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to shift control of women’s cricket from independent regions back to counties may raise some doubts.
A better approach would be to shift our perspective and recognize that this strategy is equally important for both men’s and women’s cricket. Beth Barrett-Wild, the ECB’s director of women’s professional cricket, stated, “Ultimately, this is a plan to expand the reach of cricket. By implementing this transition, we have the potential to spark significant cultural transformation within the sport.”
One hint can be found in the name of the bid proposal that has been distributed to 18 top-level cricket teams and the MCC. They have been asked to submit proposals to host one of the eight professional women’s teams, titled “Evolving Together”. The selected bids must show a dedication to promoting equal opportunities within the club, making it an effective method to eliminate toxic masculinity.
The European Central Bank (ECB) seems to have taken into account the International Cricket Council’s (ICEC) feedback about the underrepresentation of women in decision-making roles in cricket. The opinions of female cricketers have been given prominence during the development of plans for the second version of the women’s professional game. This was achieved through the involvement of the women’s player committee of the Professional Cricketers’ Association in the consultation process.
Katie Levick, a player for the Northern Diamonds and a member of the committee, expresses that this transition feels significantly distinct from the previous switch to the new regional structure in 2020. She recalls the uncertainty surrounding their Yorkshire season in 2019 and the lack of knowledge about future plans. In the past, they have often questioned who is responsible for these decisions, so being able to provide direct feedback at every step of the process is an incredible opportunity.
There are still some unresolved matters, particularly regarding facilities. The current county grounds are already full and it is important for women’s cricket to have a presence on the main stages of the sport. A source familiar with the women’s regional game expressed the issue as follows: “Unless there are funds to construct another facility, we will have to share resources.” Historically, men in cricket have not been very successful at sharing.
Phoebe Graham, a member of the PCA women’s committee from Lancashire Thunder, shares the same sentiment. She expresses that they do not wish to train outside of the hours of nine to five and do not want to be relegated to a graveyard shift in a sports hall just to accommodate the counties. This is no longer acceptable for them and they deserve to be given more priority.
Graham uses Lancashire as a successful model in this aspect. By treating the North-West Thunder as part of Lancashire Women, they have fostered a sense of unity that is lacking elsewhere. Both the men’s and women’s teams train at Emirates Old Trafford, our main ground. This has allowed them to collaborate on commercial opportunities with Hilton and Sportsbreaks, promoting the club as a single entity.
She states, “If anything, Lancashire may have influenced the ECB’s decision by demonstrating the effectiveness of this model.”
However, implementing cultural change can be challenging. There is a possibility that certain countries may only pretend to prioritize the growth of women’s cricket, solely for the purpose of earning the privilege to host a top-tier team. They may then utilize the annual £1.3m investment from the ECB to support their men’s teams instead.
The previous Karen Carney examination revealed that a common occurrence was redirecting funds that were designated for women’s football back into the men’s game. The ECB has stated that strict measures will be implemented to prevent this from happening in cricket, but specific information is currently limited.
First and foremost, the new model must be successful. Making three significant changes to women’s cricket within eight years has already weakened the ECB’s trustworthiness: failure is not acceptable this time.