May 29, 2020 / 8:17 AM / in a month

Poised for leap before pandemic, women's cricket limps into future

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Women’s cricket appeared poised for a great leap forward when Australia beat India in the Twenty20 World Cup final in front of a record 86,174 crowd at Melbourne Cricket Ground in March.

FILE PHOTO: Cricket - Women’s Ashes - Third IT20 - England v Australia - Bristol County Ground, Bristol, Britain - July 31, 2019 Australia celebrate winning the Women’s Ashes with the trophy Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs

Less than three months since that heady night, though, it risks slipping back into the shadows cast by the men’s game after being grounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cricket boards are staring at financial losses ranging from significant to severe as a result of the coronavirus shutdown and there is a danger the women’s game will bear the brunt of the cost-cutting.

“This is a concern across the game, and in particular in countries where there isn’t an agreed model in place ensuring gender equity principles are built into the game,” Tom Moffat, the chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA), told Reuters.

“We are urging the ICC and the boards to continue to invest in sustainable foundations for the women’s game around the world.”

While the final financial cost of the coronavirus shutdown will not be known for months, perhaps years, the early signs for women’s cricket are relatively positive.

That does not mean there will be no pain, but it may not be overly inequitable compared to cuts the men’s game faces.

England’s centrally contracted women players volunteered a three-month pay cut and their board has put on hold plans to introduce 40 domestic contracts as part of its 20 million pounds ($24.72 million) investment in the women’s game.

Several uncontracted female cricketers have also been denied what was to be their only source of income after the launch of The Hundred competition was postponed to next year.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) will pay up to 24 domestic players a regional retainer starting on June 1 as an interim solution.

“The momentum behind the women’s game has been staggering in the last few years and it is still firmly our ambition to build on that,” Clare Connor, the ECB’s managing director of women’s cricket, said earlier this month.

“While we still intend to award those full-time contracts in 2020, we want to try to support our players as much as we can until that point ...”

MASSIVELY UNDERVALUED

Australia has blazed a trail for women’s cricket in recent few years but some players are worried that the national board may trim back domestic competitions as part of cost-cutting measures.

“We don’t want to lose any cricket. I don’t feel our domestic players get to play enough as it is,” said wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy.

India’s wealthy board (BCCI) will not consider cost-cutting measures until it has a clearer idea of how much the shutdown has cost them, but its players, both male and female, were unlikely to suffer, its treasurer Arun Singh Dhumal said.

“Once we have a clear-cut picture that this is the net loss on account of the pandemic, we’ll work out a strategy where we can cut cost,” he told Reuters.

“There’s no question of reducing investment (in women’s cricket). And cutting player salaries is the last thing we’d want to do.”

Wasim Khan, chief executive of Pakistan’s cricket board, sees the value of the women’s game and instead of cuts he wanted to give a financial boost to the next set of central contracts and double the match fees for women.

“From the day that I arrived, I made it clear that women’s cricket had been massively undervalued within Pakistan,” Khan told Reuters.

“We have to obviously plan accordingly for all the areas of investments within our game. Certainly there are no plans to back down on the pledges that I made when I first arrived 14 months ago.”

Editing by Nick Mulvenney and Peter Rutherford

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