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Cricket: Boost for women players

Toni Street will be delighted that the days of spinnaker shirts may finally be over, writes Andrew Alderson.
New Zealand won the 2000 World Cup but it has been mostly downhill for the women's game since. Photo / photosport.nz
New Zealand won the 2000 World Cup but it has been mostly downhill for the women's game since. Photo / photosport.nz

Before TV presenter Toni Street made the first of her 12 appearances for Central Districts almost 15 years ago, she remembers receiving her playing kit.

"We were given what must have been XXXL polo shirts, the same as the men. I assume it was just because no one really thought about it, but it illustrates female cricket can't be treated as an add-on to the male game.

"Whether we're talking about encouraging females to play the game, or to watch the game, there has to be a different mindset."

Tellingly, the receipt of the spinnaker shirts came almost exactly a year after the White Ferns won the country's only cricket World Cup in December 2000. Instead of the women's arm of the game becoming a hotbed for growth, it remained an afterthought.

Street acknowledges it was "only a polo shirt" but believes the example shows why more women are needed to administer the game.

"It's also about looking at events through the eyes of a mum [she has two daughters] and thinking, 'what would help her decide that she should come and watch the cricket, knowing the kids would be entertained as well?'."

Her comments form a theme to the New Zealand Cricket-commissioned Women and Cricket, Cricket and Women report, the result of a year-long independent review led by business consultant Sarah Beaman, who examined the women's game and how the sport relates to women in general.

Many findings were grim. Interestingly, the decline began around the time the New Zealand women's cricket council amalgamated with their men's counterpart in 1992. That was touted as a major coup, yet the women's game wilted.

"Women's cricket has been sidelined. This is wrong, and we have a responsibility to put things right," New Zealand Cricket head David White said in response to the report.

Part of the mea culpa has NZC committed to boosting the role of women in the game, regardless of whether that encroaches on other developmental budgets, like men's A tours.

White Ferns contracts have increased in number and value this season; a concerted effort is being made to get them additional game time (they're currently playing Pakistan); and better broadcasting exposure is being pursued with Sky Sport (the Rose Bowl match against Australia is locked in for live coverage on February 26).

NZC board member Liz Dawson led the project's steering committee and described the outcomes as "brutal and bleak".

"For every parent who has a daughter, imagine saying, 'you can't represent New Zealand or can't contribute to a committee, board or as a volunteer because you're a girl'.

"We need to shift the conversation so it's not 'what to do about women', but looking at the cost of not including female talent and input at all levels if the sport wants to remain competitive.

"It's not about fitting in with what's existing, but how to change that environment. If young women can see, young women can do."

That is expected to start through governance. Only five of the 43 major association board positions are held by women " last month, there were two.

New Zealand Cricket is attempting to get more girls into the game. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
New Zealand Cricket is attempting to get more girls into the game. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

"Plenty of women have the right qualities," Dawson said. "They might have a business or sports background, or have children who play cricket."

NZC's operating officer Anthony Crummy said: "This is about women and cricket, not women's cricket. We're as interested in women as fans as much as players. Almost 40 per cent of our fans are females [women also made up 54 per cent of last year's Super Smash audience].

"As girls grow up, we're asking them to fit into a system that is geared towards men. It's been debated from a cost perspective that all our revenue comes from the men's game, but actually it comes from our fans. That's why we need to grow the game's base."

Increasing participation levels is crucial and requires lateral thinking outside traditional Saturday forms.

Northern Districts this year set up the Northern Premier League, as a way of adapting.

A series of mismatches and a poor quality of play saw the major association's club scene decline. The NPL emerged from the ashes. Crucially, the competition is sponsored by Sky City Hamilton and comprises four non-regional teams competing across six Sundays this season. The talent is spread as evenly as possible to ensure competitive matches. The opening fixture saw two games, involving 11 White Ferns, played at Mt Maunganui's Bay Oval on October 30.

Chief executive Peter Roach said women tended to want to play with their mates, and this method placed them all in decent proximity on the same park, rather than gravitating towards one team.

"We wanted to whet their appetite," Roach said. "We designed new uniforms, and will provide quality grounds, umpires, coaches, managers and scorers. We want to expose our players to an aspirational pathway to develop their games."

The days of the spinnaker shirt appear to be over.

STATE OF PLAY

- 10 per cent of Kiwi cricketers who take part in all traditional and modified participation experiences are female.

- 90 per cent of female cricketers are under the age of 12, compared to 65 per cent of males.

- 58 per cent of clubs have no women's participation options.

- 54 per cent of the Super Smash audience is women.

Ranking of female participation across sports by age

5-10 year-olds - 16th

11-14 year-olds - 21st

15-18 year-olds - 34th

- NZ Herald

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