Sunday, 19 January 2014

Breakaway Women's T20 Tournament

Saturday saw the official announcement of the creation of the Women's International Cricket League and the launch of the website. To many who follow the women's game it was no great surprise. There had been rumours that something was afoot for a few months. The WICL's stated aims are to create sporting opportunities for females - not only in cricket, but starting with that. The main opportunity it seems is to play sport professionally and to make a living from it.

The faces behind the WICL are former Aussie all-rounder Lisa Sthalekar, and sports and events management specialist Shaun Martyn. Their plan is to host a T20 tournament, probably initially in Singapore, as they have been working with the Singapore Cricket Association, made up of six "franchise" teams, consisting of a mix of players from around the world. In addition to the teams who will be competing in the T20 World Cup in March - Australia, England, New Zealand, West Indies, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ireland - players would be drawn from all the cricket playing nations in the world, which might include players from Papua New Guniea, UAE, Holland and Japan for example. They might not be that strong as a team, but they may have individuals who could hold their own against the best in the world. With six teams you would expect the player pool to need to be in the region of 75/85 players.

The website suggests that WICL are still looking for partners - people to sponsor the teams, broadcast partners and the like. They are also presumably looking for players. It is obviously still very early days. Lisa Sthalekar says they are "working with the ICC on a number of matters", and that they "still have some work to do". No dates are yet being publicly banded about for when the tournament might be or how long it might go on for, but one would guess that it would be a three/four week tournament on a league basis, culminating in semi-finals and a final perhaps all played on the same "finals' day". If it is to succeed than you would guess that it will need to be sanctioned by both the ICC and the various boards of the countries involved. That could take some doing. Clare Connor, in reply to a question asking what she thought of the WICL announcement, tweeted that "IF it gets off the ground and stacks up commercially, it could be an exciting addition to the international women's calendar."

It is a big "IF". Some analogies can be drawn to the emergence of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, back in late 1970s, when Packer took on the "establishment" ostensibly to improve the lot of players, but in reality to obtain the exclusive television rights to Australian cricket for his company. The opportunity to make substantial amounts of money lead many leading players to sign up, despite that meaning that they would be banned from playing for their countries. Here too money would be the over-riding factor for the players. Currently very few players in the world actually earn their living from playing cricket, although one or two of the Aussies who are now centrally contracted have the potential to earn $70,000 to $80,000pa. Some are also suggesting that England may also announce some improved central contracts for their players later this year.

It may be quite attractive to some boards to allow their players to play in the WICL, thereby supplementing their Board incomes. It means the risk of the competition flopping falls squarely on WICL, but the best players in the world get paid some decent money, and the profile of women's cricket and women cricketers is enhanced. On the back of that boards may be able to get more people to watch their own international matches, both at the ground and on television. It would be a win, win situation.

As Clare Connor says it is a question of whether it stacks up commercially, which means that a broadcast company has to be involved and has to be willing to pay out some pretty big bucks to get the rights to the tournament. It is a nice idea, but it may just be a little early in the commercial-viability graph of women's cricket. The fact that anyone is even talking about it is testament itself to how far women's cricket has come in the last five years, and it may inspire boards to have the confidence to invest even more in the women's game for the benefit of all players.


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