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Women's Cricket: A bird without wings

I had just finished reading an article on Nelson Mandela, written by Dr. Richard Lapchick – the Chair of the DeVos Sports Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and the social conscience of sport – when I was convinced that the actions of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) to cancel the ICC Americas Women’s Championship and continue the men’s equivalent competition at all three divisions, are collectively an embedded demonstration of gender inequity.

It has been dubbed as a “business decision” by ICC to eliminate the women’s tournament though it violates ICC’s own principles and its mission to build a bigger, better global game and improve the standard of cricket in regions, such as ours.  If ICC Americas took a page out of Title IX, such economic reason could not be used to justify gender inequity.

The ICC Americas decision to eliminate the 2014 regional women’s cricket qualifier sparked great emotion not only for its negative impact on women’s cricket in the region, but for the fact that in the 21st century, an international sports governing body demonstrates that women sports are still subjected to male hegemony at a very basic level.

The women cricketers of this region are not asking for new or greater opportunities; but rather for a basic benefit of continuous access to sports competition – the opportunity presented since 2006, and which the men and youths continue to enjoy.

Who is ICC?
The ICC is to cricket, just as FIFA is to soccer. Per ICC, there are 106 member countries of the ICC. This includes 10 Full Members, 37 Associate Members and 59 Affiliate Members. The Pepsi ICC Development Programme (Development Programme) is tasked with building a bigger, better global game by assisting the 96 Associate & Affiliate Members (AMs) grow and improve the standard of cricket within their territories. The Development Programme is responsible for implementing ICC’s global event qualifying structures which give all AMs an opportunity to compete in men’s, women’s, and under 19 World Cup events. Although global in its objectives, the Development Programme is delivered largely through five regional offices namely Africa, Americas, Asia, East Asia- Pacific and Europe. Within the context of ICC, full member nations do not compete in regional qualifying tournaments with AMs, but instead earn almost automatic qualification into World Cup events. In the Americas Region there are 16 AMs and one full member team – the West Indies. Further, the term Americas Representative is used typically for AMs from this geographical region and not the full member.

The Americas Region includes 16 AMs—USA, Canada, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Suriname, Bahamas, Argentina, Brazil, Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, Falkland Lands, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Turks & Caicos. Each country’s national cricket governing body reports to the ICC Americas Region office.

ICC’s Myopic View on Women’s Cricket
ICC’s commitment to women’s cricket is documented widely, but in reality it seems to serve only the top eight teams in international cricket. In a recent article, Clare Connor, Chair of the ICC Women’s Committee, outlined ICC’s focus on the top eight countries in women’s cricket and subsequently, the neglect of the 96 other ICC member countries.

“The immediate focus for international women’s cricket is the ICC International Women’s Championship, which the ICC board approved in January [2014]. For the first time ever, the top eight ranked women’s teams in the world will play each other in a bilateral competition, with results determining qualification for the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup. This is a real game-changer for the women’s game.”

This “real game-changer for the women’s game” will improve the standard of the women’s game among the top eight and widen the gap between them and the 98 other countries. While these top eight will play 20+ high-quality games annually among themselves, the remaining countries will play less than 10 games every two years among themselves – ensuring the disparity in playing levels and giving little to zero chances for the minnows to break into the top eight.

The fledgling Women’s International Cricket League (WICL) proposed an international tournament that will provide unprecedented money-making opportunities for women cricketers. The proposed team structure includes players outside of the top 10 women’s teams in the world; making it an inclusive opportunity for women cricketers but the ICC disapproved of this tournament, dampening the WICL’s efforts of creating competitive playing opportunities that are both global and profitable, for women cricketers worldwide.

Untapped Potential in the USA for Women Cricketers
Do you know that there are less than 200 women who play cricket in the US? Do you know that players of softball, tennis, hockey, and soccer are great prospects to turn into cricket-converts? Erica Rendler, a softball player from San Jose, California, was one such convert and top USA performer at the global World Cup Qualifier in 2011 in Bangladesh.

Almost like golf, cricket players have long career spans allowing men and women to play at the highest level into their 40s. It means that among all sports in the US, cricket is probably the easiest for a female athlete to make it onto a USA national team. Just like any other sport, cricket takes you around the world to exotic and interesting countries you otherwise might not visit.

ICC’s Decision to Cancel the Americas Women’s Cricket Championship
It is alleged that the ICC Development Committee approved ICC Americas’ Regional Development Manager, Ben Kavenagh’s proposal to eliminate the championship and not have an Americas’ representation at the next two ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifiers. This will take an Americas’ representation out of a World Cup qualifier until 2019 – five sustained years of prolonged gender inequality. Historically, the Americas region has been hosting a qualifier event since 2006 and sending a representative to subsequent World Cup Qualifier events under the previous administration of Martin Vieira.

Why Does it Matter?
ICC’s vision of success is: As a leading global sport, cricket will captivate and inspire people of every age, gender, background and ability while building bridges between continents, countries and communities. Its values include Fairness and Integrity, Excellence, Accountability, Teamwork, Respect for diversity, and Commitment to the global game and its great spirit. Priorities of the Pepsi ICC Development Program include attracting more females to cricket, and improving the standard of the Women’s game at the highest international level. The decision and its repercussions are clearly contrary to Pepsi’s terms for funding this program.

By approving such a decision, the ICC is negating its own organizational principles, the principles of sports development, and compounding gender inequity recommended by Mr. Ben Kavenagh. Without the tournament, there is no incentive to play and no incentive for local clubs to support women’s cricket. A generation of cricketers is wiped out prematurely; an entire region is denied an opportunity to play in a World Cup Qualifier event; and the future generation of players has nothing to aspire to achieve. In the meanwhile, other development regions have been approved to conduct their regional qualifiers this year. Countries such as Japan, Thailand, Ireland, Netherlands and others continue to forge ahead, while the USA and the rest of the Americas are left behind.

It is no secret that ICC seeks to enter and gain a foothold in the US market but this action dilutes its brand. This decision would be frowned upon by a the nation that has taken gender inequity very seriously and has made great strides to demonstrate this by enacting federal laws such as Title IX and the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. These laws are not applicable to ICC Americas or ICC but they set the expectations for institutions and organizational practices. US corporations and potential sponsors pride themselves on being good corporate citizens and as such, it is very important that the entities and brands they associate themselves with are socially responsible. There is no doubt that it would serve the ICC well to demonstrate a track record of success in these areas to support its future market entry and penetration plans by reversing its acceptance of Mr.Ben Kavenagh’s recommendation which promotes gender inequity.

An ICC reversal permits not only a perfect opportunity to correct an issue of a region not participating in a World Cup Qualifier event, but also the opportunity to set the course right for what is to be the standard level of respect for the seriousness of women’s cricket. Stripping women of World Cup dreams by denying access to the prerequisite events is simply unjust. Mistakes are made at the highest level without a doubt, but this is a reversible mistake that ICC can rectify in the interest of cricket and its organizational principles to make cricket a bigger, better global game.

The Fight to End Gender Inequity
Gender inequity exists today at all levels of sport, worldwide. To combat the issue, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hosts the World Conference on Women and Sport every four years with leading international and regional sports governing bodies, and government entities from around the world to report on progress, discuss the issues, and declare recommendations. No organization is too big or too strong to be reformed and the IOC is an exemplar of such – identifying inequity issues within its organization and among its constituents, and taking corrective actions to break gender inequity in sports. The last conference in 2012 called on sports leaders to take a proactive role in advancing the cause of women in and through sports. There is a paradox in which ICC’s goal is to advance women’s cricket but their action reported here is to negate it.

The support for the return of the ICC Americas Women’s Championship is growing and is evidenced by the launch of the Women’s Cricket Now Petition — an initiative of women cricketers of the Americas region. Help us send the message to ICC that we promote gender equity and inclusion. Share this petition with friends and family, and let your voice be heard.

Download the full report here.

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