Cricket is the sport that divides the nation – some love it, and others think it the most boring sport ever and can’t stand it. And yet, in some ways, it is still Australia’s national sport. The climax of Australian cricket comes every year in the form of the Ashes, a time-worn battle between the England and Australian cricket team for a tiny trophy of ashes. And while many cricket enthusiasts would know the date of the first test of the men’s Ashes, fewer would probably know that the women’s series has already kicked off and is well under way.
The women’s Ashes series works a little differently to the men’s. It is decided on a points-based system, and is multi-disciplinary, consisting of three One Day Internationals, three Twenty20s, and one test match. The series started about three weeks ago, and will finish on 21 November. It has already given us a plethora of highlights, including England captain Heather Knight’s 88 not out to guide her team to victory in the last One Day International, Australia’s bowlers limiting England to 5 wickets down for only 31 runs in the second One Day International, and most recently, Ellyse Perry’s record breaking unbeaten double century in the test match in Sydney.
If any of these had been achieved by the men’s cricket team, the news would be splashed over every newspaper and news bulletin. But because the women’s Ashes is just that – women’s sport – the series, and consequently, the teams involved, have not been getting as much coverage as they deserve. Some, but not all of their games have been broadcast on free to air television, but haven’t received the same amount of promotion as the men’s games. And while they have been winning matches against the English team, the media is still commenting on the men’s domestic games and speculating over who will be chosen for the men’s Ashes series. This is disappointing, but not unexpected.
As is the norm in many countries, women’s sport is not regarded as highly as men’s sport – even if the women’s team is performing at a standard far superior than that of the men. Since we’re talking about cricket, let’s compare the statistics of the Australian women’s and men’s cricket teams. The Australian women’s cricket team have won six out of ten World Cup titles, and to date, has won 87% of their matches. Compare this to the men’s team, who have only won five out of eleven World Cup titles, and 54.5% of all their matches.
Yet such success does not translate into more coverage, or even more money. Players of women’s sport have long been denied the pay packets that their male counterparts earn. And even though circumstances seem to be changing, progress seems to be slow, and salaries are not yet at a place where they could be considered to be comparable, by any stretch of the imagination.
A deal struck between cricket players and Cricket Australia in August of this year sees female players’ payments increasing from $7.5 million to $55.2 million – “the biggest pay rise in the history of women’s sport in Australia”, according to Alistair Nelson, the chief of the Australian Cricketers’ Association. Additionally, they will be paid from a performance pool, like the men. Even though this is a win for women cricket players, the pay disparity is still startlingly apparent. The base rate for international women’s cricketers will be $72,076, while the same rate for international men’s cricketers will be $278,100 – a difference of almost 400%.
This is an issue not just for women’s cricket in Australia. Many seem to only show any interest in women’s sport when it comes to the Olympics, and to a lesser extent, the Commonwealth Games – but our contingent of extremely talented athletes do not just play sport every four (or two) years. Women’s sports in general are undervalued – for example, Australia’s netballers have arguably been the best in the world for many decades, and yet many of them still have to work second jobs on top of training to fund their overseas and interstate trips, and have done so for a while. Others are also known to play more than one sport so they can support themselves all year round.
The long-held argument that women are not paid as much as men because people aren’t won’t watch it or attend games was debunked this year with the extremely successful launch of the AFL Women’s season. The AFLW debut match was attended by 24,500 people, with many being turned away. Additionally, the AFLW grand final attracted a crowd of 15,160, and was watched by 884,000 people around the country. But while male AFL players earn, on average, $300,000 a year, the maximum salary for a player in the AFLW is $20,000. And this is after a new deal was struck with players that saw its total player payments increase from $2.275 million to $2.752 million for the 2018 season.
Issues regarding women’s sport in Australia also extend to its leadership. Kate Palmer, the new CEO of the Australian Sports Commission, is the first woman to hold this position in the organisation’s 32-year history. In 2015, figures show that only 6 out of Australia’s top 15 funded sports have met a target set in 2012 to for 40% of their boards to be made up of women. As of 2016, many AFL and NRL clubs have boards that do not have any women directors. If we look across the board, 19% of women make up AFL club boards, while the number is just 16.1% for NRL club boards, with promises to extend ‘diversity’ seemingly falling on deaf ears.
It is clear that there are systemic issues at play in women’s sport, issues that cannot be resolved overnight. So what can we, the laypeople of Australia, do to support players of women’s sport in Australia? Women’s Sport Australia is a non-profit organisation doing excellent work in the form of a national mentoring program for women who aspire to be leaders in sport, and they take donations all year around. But more simply, we can all support women’s sport by buying tickets to attend games we want to see, or even by watching your favourite women’s sport on television. I, for one, will be glued to the rest of the women’s Ashes series (wherever I can find it).
Keep up to date with the Women's Ashes here.