Funding for women's cricket in England to be protected

Plans for investing heavily in women's cricket “will be protected” despite the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a top official at the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Clare Connor, managing director of women's cricket at the ECB, said there are no guarantees but that there is a commitment at the highest level to protect a strategy to spend tens of millions of pounds on expanding women's and girls' cricket.

“I remain really confident that the momentum we’ve built behind the women's and girls' game will be protected to the absolute best of our endeavors,” Connor told The Associated Press on Wednesday. ”There is a very strong desire to protect the investment into the women's and girls' game."

The ECB on Thursday unveiled its Together Through This Test campaign highlighting the cricket community’s volunteer efforts during the lockdown. Cricketers and clubs have rallied to support their neighbors in more than 200 initiatives ranging from charity runs to food deliveries.

The virus has killed more than 35,000 people in Britain and has brought sport to a halt.

“We are a very small piece of an enormous, difficult jigsaw," said Connor, who captained England in her playing days. "If we can make some contribution to boosting morale or keeping people hopeful of better times, then that will have been a job well done.”

The campaign offers online resources to support the game and volunteers. A fundraising auction Friday offers opportunities to participate in training sessions and Zoom calls with England internationals.

Cricket was set for a big year in England. The Hundred tournament was scheduled for July and August with the aim of capitalizing on England's men winning the 2019 Cricket World Cup and inspiring a new generation of fans through a shorter, 100-ball format.

Now postponed to 2021, The Hundred is a key part of the ECB’s five-year plan dubbed “Inspiring Generations.” The plan called for hundreds of millions of pounds in spending through 2024 on investments in the county network, facilities, programs for youth and women, and inner-city centers.

Boosting participation among women and girls is “the game’s biggest growth opportunity,” according to the Inspiring Generations strategy document.

The original plan, announced last year, was to invest $61 million (50 million pounds) over five years to provide more opportunities for women and girls and to identify and develop elite players.

No segment would be spared, however, if the cricket seasons are wiped out. The men's County Championship is postponed until at least July 1. A new women's semi-pro league is scheduled to debut in September. Potential losses could reach 400 million pounds ($490 million), Connor said.

“If we were to suffer the worst-case scenario, in terms of nearly 400 million pounds of losses this year, then we are going to have to revise most of our plans for the coming years, and that would be across the game,” she said.

Still, Connor said it's a good sign that the ECB recently committed to monthly payments for 24 female players in advance of the new league. The goal is to pay full professional salaries to 40 women.

Connor, who grew up playing on boys’ teams, said the system should offer equal pathways for boys and girls.

“That’s the utopia we’re after, and that obviously doesn’t happen overnight because we’re a game built on foundations and structures that have been about catering for men and boys for decades,” she said.

Other sports are under pressure, as well. The international soccer players’ union, FIFPro, warned in April that COVID-19′s impact may present “an almost existential threat to the women’s game if no specific considerations are given to protect the women’s football industry.”

Postponement of The Hundred was a blow to the women's game in particular, Connor said. The tournament was set to feature eight new men's and women's, city-based teams — a departure from the traditional county system — and featuring some of the world’s biggest cricket stars.

For the women's game, that meant strong revenue and marketing on par with the men's side, along with television exposure.

“That was going to be an enormous step forward for professional women’s cricket,” Connor said.

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