Second rate facilities for female athletes

In the last week the national American women’s soccer team has withdrawn from a friendly event, citing concerns about the quality of the playing surface. This is not an isolated incident; the women continually find themselves playing on artificial turf (rather than grass, is accepted as the standard surface material, and which the men play on).

Whilst their concerns have centered on safety, it should be a general expectation that women and men playing at the elite level (or any level, for that matter) have access to grounds and sporting fields of a similar calibre. As the US team’s open letter stated, “at the end of the day, we expect to be treated equally as our male counterparts”.

We have similar issues in Australia. Last week saw the introduction of the women’s Big Bash League – the equivalent to the men’s BBL which is the elite T20 cricket competition in the nation. This is a very exciting prospect and certainly a step in the right direction.

However what is very disappointing is that, whilst being billed as an equivalent league, the WBBL is not on par with the BBL in any way at this stage – not in terms of media coverage, funding, or facilities. Whilst it may be argued that the first two issues are difficult to resolve in the first year of operation, the question of facilities is much more straightforward. It should be an expectation that elite level cricketers, regardless of gender, play on elite fields.

In reality, for this year’s WBBL the women have been relegated to second or third tier sporting arenas. Whilst the men in Tasmania play all their games at Bellerive Oval (aka Blundstone Arena), the premier cricket ground in the state, the women play just one game at this ground for their whole season and are otherwise scheduled to play at Aurora Stadium in Launceston or even at a local club ground, the Twin Ovals in suburban Kingston.

Similar allocation of facilities can be seen across the nation – for example, whilst the men play at the big grounds – the MCG, the Gabba, the WACA, SCG and Adelaide Oval – their female counterparts have to make do with playing at Junction Oval (St Kilda), the Allan Border Field (Brisbane), Aquinas College (suburban Perth), the Drummoyne Oval, Waverly Oval and so on. Whilst they get a few games at the big grounds, these are very limited.

There is of course an argument that the women’s games deserve to be scheduled independently of the men’s, and potentially therefore on a separate day. There is also the fact that  the men are still finalising their test and shield matches and have not yet started the BBL campaign. However equally there is an argument that to encourage bigger crowds and television coverage, the women’s games should be held on the same day as the men’s.  It becomes much harder to achieve big crowds and media coverage when games are located on different days and in out of the way venues that give the impression the match is not to be taken seriously.

At a grassroots level we know that a lack of access to facilities is one of the key barriers to women participating in sport. It is disappointing that even at an elite level the argument must still be made that women deserve to play on the same field as the men. There are some sports where this has become the norm (you could not image Serena Williams being scheduled to play on court 22 rather than centre court), however unfortunately there are many sports lagging behind.

The UN has recognised that, amongst a range of things, imbalanced access to sporting facilities is “indicative of structural gender biases in the sport system.” Whilst Cricket Australia are to be commended for instituting the inaugural WBBL, by relegating women to second rate grounds they are perpetuating this structural bias. Ensuring that our elite women play at the same venues as the men would go some way to rectifying this. At the very least it would show that they are seriously committed to dealing with these structural issues.

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4 thoughts on “Second rate facilities for female athletes

  1. I couldn’t comment on Facebook.
    But, at this stage, the hurricane ladies only have 1 game at kingston, the other has been penciled in at blundstone, in addition to new years day.
    Aurora is also arguably a better ground, and is doing all it can to get high level cricket (there’s also a test match on in hobart…)

    The west indies just played cricket australia xi at ab oval. The oval is also home to the multi million dollar national cricket center, and Queensland cricket.

    Grounds such as drummoyne and blacktown hosted multiple matador cup matches. A recent sheffield shield game was also played here.

    The futures league have played games all around the country, mackay, coffs harbour, lindesfarne etc..

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  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Ben. I am not trying to suggest that the actual quality of the surfaces is bad at these grounds – certainly in some cases it may be better than the ‘premier’ venue. What I am saying is that the WBBL should be on the same footing as the BBL – and that means playing at the same grounds. The women’s T20 teams should not be compared to the men’s futures league or the Australian second XI – in my view they should be compared with the men’s T20 teams. I am excited for WBBL01 but I see a great opportunity for CA to approach the scheduling differently next year.

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  3. Hi Liz,

    From an outsider looking in and from someone obvioulsy keen to bridge the gender gap in sport I can see where you’re coming from. However, I’d like to add some alternate thoughts, having played at all levels and worked a number of years in cricket development, as to the reasons why these decisions have been made.

    I’m not speaking on behalf of Cricket Australia but I will certainly defend their choices on fixturing and ground allocations for this years WBBL for a number of reasons.

    Women’s’ cricket has been a priority for CA for a long time and the results are certainly paying off in terms of participation numbers, national success and females working in cricket across coaching, umpiring, media and the like. Through this development there has been a careful consideration of both the players, the product, the fans (current and potential) and the desire to create the best environment for the female game to flourish.

    The T20 format was identified as a great platform to further progress the women’s game and hence a lot of time, resources and funds going into the WBBL. The only female domestic cricket competition of its size in the world and one I know other sports are both envious and concerned about. The other juggling act they had to do was acknowledge that even though there are a lot of similarities with the men’s game and a lot of replication was needed – a non negotiable even – there are elements where they could actually embrace some difference and create a package that is unique to women’s cricket and actually allows it grow and create is own product not just a replica of the men’s game. I mean who knows the men might not have got it right!? 😉

    So giving the WBBL an early start away from the men’s first round has worked wonderfully well as the coverage has been outstanding. Front page of the The Age in Melbourne. Back page Herald Sun Sport. This wouldn’t have happened with men’s games on. It’s given the WBBL time to find its feet and attract a new audience. This new audience which came down to watch the Stars play the Heat on Saturday at the Junction was 1500+ strong. Again a first.

    The Junction wasn’t a relegation is was strategically selected to allow the new & old fans as close to the action as possible. I love the G and playing on it but 1500 there wouldn’t out number staff and would feel completely empty. It would have also cost a fortune to just open up and I am more than happy for these dollars to be spent in other areas of the WBBL.

    Saturday was amazing on so many levels. The Stars were brilliant…the admin that is – the team wasn’t bad either! At 9am they had all hands on deck setting up face painting, free coffee stalls, activities for the kids, functions you name it. A big part of the crowd were also “walk ins” wanting to know what was going on because they had seen things happening from the street. This wouldn’t happen at the G. Players could feel the energy of the crowd, the crowd felt part of the game and post game they were up close and personal with the players. Wins all round.

    So CA isn’t in my books perpetuating structural bias. They are being open to working through what works best for women’s cricket at this point in time. They have taken the learnings from the recent Ashes series where games at Hove, Chelmsford were sold out. Grounds the size of the Junction. Not Lords or Old Trafford but grounds that cater for the women’s game, again at this point in time.

    We are in a unique and exciting space where it doesn’t have to be apples for apples if it doesn’t best serve our goals. The double header games at the main stadiums will give us televised games and national eyes on our players from all states. Homes games are about building a supporter base and getting people up close and personal with the players. Something that some would say the men’s game, lacks.

    In years to come I’m hoping the WBBL is packing out the Junction and similar grounds and we are then discussing moves to bigger stadiums. But till then I will thoroughly enjoy watching the worlds best within arms reach.

    Mel

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    1. Hi Mel

      Thanks for taking the time to read and consider this, and provide your insights. It’s great to have someone in your position contribute to this debate, and I really value it.

      Certainly I think it’s wonderful that CA has introduced WBBL and I realise that they are probably one of the organisations really leading the way in terms of women’s sport in Australia (and around the world).
      I think your comments regarding the fixtures/ground allocations were really though-provoking. I can certainly understand that a lot of time has gone into this and CA would obviously want this to succeed.

      I guess it’s an interesting issue regarding whether the women’s game should be a replica of the men’s game or not, and whether this is a good argument for different fixtures and ground allocation.

      This idea more broadly about whether women’s sport (or indeed women in the workplace, women in society generally) should be ‘equal’ to men or ‘different’ is a good debate to have I think. It got raised a bit with the recent Melbourne Cup victory by Michelle Payne, with some people complaining that women shouldn’t have to take part or be as ‘violent’ or aggressive as men to succeed in sport. That argument is made for women at work as well – that women shouldn’t have to be competitive to ‘make it’ in the workplace. These arguments sit uncomfortably with me – why shouldn’t women take part in that way if they choose/who’s to say that some women don’t naturally want to be aggressive, etc or that some men should be able to be more ‘compassionate’ leaders, and so on?

      It’s sort of a similar argument here I think with cricket – that perhaps the women’s game can be different from the men’s and a product in its own right. I can see the logic here but again something doesn’t sit right for me. In particular with the cricket I think it’s a tough argument to make so much about the BBL and the WBBL the same (franchise names, uniforms, rules, etc) but then say that it’s ok to have different fixturing and grounds.

      I also feel uncomfortable about the argument that it would be too costly to open up the ‘big’ grounds for more of the WBBL games – as someone living in Tasmania I can say that Bellerive is often ‘opened’ up to the men’s games ranging from Shield to one dayers to the recent Test, often with very small crowds (not without its own controversy of course). Therefore there must be seen to be benefit to holding those games at those grounds aside from crowd numbers, and there is an argument that women should have access to the same benefit.

      It’s certainly great to have the WBBL live on tv today – if only there was more of it from the get go!

      Liz

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