UPDATED 4th June 2014 - ECB issued a statement today which said that it does not have any support for WICL - Clare Connor "Any Twenty20 tournament that features the best players in the world outside ICC competitions would need to be run and controlled by one of the full members" (full details)
So where does that leave WICL now? ECB contracted players will presumably not be able to play, depending on the wording in their contracts. Will Cricket Australia and others follow suit? Will ECB or CA organise their own Women's T20 event? Will WICL try and go ahead without English and Australian contracted players? I'd expect an announcement from CA in the near future....
[5th June - as expected from CA - statement]
Trying to build a sustainable business based around women's cricket is a
bit like trying to build a house without foundations. There is simply
no money in women's cricket. The only reason players are currently being
paid anything (and there are only a handful who are genuinely full-time
professional players) is as a result of money
from the men's game or generous sponsors (take a bow Momentum in South Africa).
So you have to applaud 14 Degrees, the company behind the proposed Women's International Cricket League, who are trying to stage a Women's T20 tournament for six global teams, playing 17 matches over 12 days in one location, with all the players being paid between $5,000 - $40,000 for their efforts.They obviously believe that they can do it. As Shaun Martyn, Director of WICL says "It's a big project, but we are a long way down the track".
Each of the six teams will be owned by a separate business and Martyn assures us that they are well-advanced in signing up two companies to this role, with a third not far behind. Discussions have already been had with some of the star players in the world and they are naturally excited about the prospect of earning $40,000 and perhaps becoming a global star in the process. This is hardly surprising considering most of them have earned next to nothing from the game they have played almost full-time for several years, let alone $3,333 a day.
So how will WICL achieve what others have so far failed to achieve - ie revenue? The answer seems to be the reach of the internet and the huge possibilities of new cricket markets - China, the USA and South America for example. WICL are committed to including a "pathway player" in each of the six teams. These will be players from emerging nations - they will also probably be players from emerging markets for women's cricket. "I'm looking for the 6 foot 4 inch Papua New Guinea fast bowler that
no-one has ever seen, who's been spearing fish in some remote river
somewhere", says Martyn, tongue firmly in cheek. You can see the appeal to the competition and potentially to all the people with internet access in Papua New Guinea. They would have their own star on a world stage.
Martyn is keen to emphasise the importance of developing the image of the individuals involved. He is right. Women's cricket needs heroes. People seem to need to have the back story to buy into the product as a whole. He rightly says that beyond the four of us in the room - him and the Three Bloggers - very few people would be able to name the top 20 women cricket players in the world. That is something he would like to change. And that is something which he thinks WICL 1 and beyond can change.
He is naturally tight-lipped about the current negotiations with the major cricket boards (see above). There have been meetings and there have been negotiations. He first spoke to Clare Connor in her role as Chairman of the ICC's Women's Committee 18 months ago. He is keen to point out that all the WICL is doing is creating an opportunity for 78 women cricket players to earn some cash, something that all the international male cricketers can do in abundance. He does not see WICL as a threat to women's cricket and the various cricket boards, but an opportunity for women cricketers to make realistic money from the game they play. He is hopeful that a suitable window can be found for the tournament and that the boards will all buy into the project. He says the tournament will go ahead in the next 9-12 months.
The tournament will have its own range of sportswear (more), created by Masaba Gupta, the daughter of the great Vivian Richards. We are promised some "funky designs", perhaps even personalised lids (as F1 drivers have perhaps). Martyn says the girls want this. They are fed-up of wearing cut-down men's gear and rolling up trousers that are far too long. Apparently some of the girls have already had some input on designs. This won't make the cricket any better of course, but it is a realisation that women's cricket has to appeal to a broad market. If you take a look at women's tennis and how far that has come in the last 40 years and the importance of fashion and design in the current game, then you can see where WICL is coming from.
Cricket aficionados may be horrified by what they see if they tune in in a year's time. But then people were horrified by Kerry Packer and his World Series Pajama Cricket back in 1977. The game has had to progress. Coloured outfits, white balls, spider cam, numbered shirts, switch hits, scoop shots, the IPL. We may not like them all but it has made the men's game a viable product. WICL 1 hopes to do the same for the women's game.
Ultimately though the tournament will come down to the quality of the players and the quality of the cricket played, but don't expect to see all the players in the ICC rankings invited to the WICL. Emerging talent is an important part of the WICL brief. The question might be whether the emerging talent can hack it with the best in the world? There are in fact only 77 slots for players. We know one player and the captain of the 14 Degrees team already (the company are keeping one of the teams back for themselves) - none other than Lisa Sthalekar herself.
The next few months are going to be very interesting.