Can women's cricket evolve to become the next new frontier of American sport? That question can only be answered with a dynamic and visionary administrative structure and grassroots program in place, the two main ingredients for the successful nurturing and growth of any sport.
By John Aaron
“We want it to be remembered as a life changing moment for women’s sport.” – Mia Hamm, on the USA winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999.
Unlike soccer, cricket, for many years was dubbed the gentleman’s game, and that has long been the mantra of the sport. In recent times, Cricket! Lovely Cricket has become the familiar chant. Is there a shift from the classic mantra to the now colloquial chant, as the game courts the lovelier gender?
Priya Singh (right) is President of Missouri Youth Cricket Association is a Development Representative for American Cricket Federation.
Following the first Women’s World Cup Cricket Tournament in 1973, it became apparent that if the women cricketers could not beat the men, then it was best they joined them, at least from the perspective of unifying the effort and growing the sport, while promoting the gospel of cricket to the world and new markets. Thus, the merging of the International Women’s Cricket Council and the men’s International Cricket Council in 2005 was the beginning of the marriage of the two gender sport. One may argue that the merger did not immediately result in widespread acceptance of a woman crouching at silly mid-on, hooking to the square-leg boundary, or fielding in the slips, but it brought the women’s game, a fair amount of recognition, and made believers out of some men, and some women themselves.
Since the “marriage” of the two genres, the women have sought to establish their legitimacy and be treated with the same aplomb and accolades as their male counterparts. However, despite the emergence of some female players who may be considered on par with some of the sport’s men, the women’s game has struggled to reach the same heights as the men.
It has been a slow process, and I am sure some women will argue, painful at times, but a new dawn is arising. As women’s cricket continues to grow, while capturing the attention, hearts and imaginations of young and old alike; fans, supporters and administrators are heartened and encouraged. That augurs well for the growth of women’s cricket in the USA, and to be adopted by believers and sponsors alike.
America and the rest of the world awakened when Brandi Chastain disrobed to her athletic bra, following the USA’s 1-0 defeat of China in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. USA women’s soccer had finally arrived upon the doorstep of the house Edson Arantes Do Nascimento aka Pele, Chinaglia, Beckenbauer, and other trailblazers of soccer in the USA, had built for the men. Entering through the front porch way would not be as easy as thought, so the women have been climbing through any available window and crevice, trying to get to the dinner table of corporate America, the only trough that can help sustain women’s cricket.
Can women’s cricket evolve to become the next new frontier of American sport? That question can only be answered with a dynamic and visionary administrative structure and grassroots program in place, the two main ingredients for the successful nurturing and growth of any sport.
Currently, most of the senior women players in the USA, hail from cricket playing nations in the Caribbean and South Asia, along with a few the traditional cricket strongholds of England, Australia, and South Africa. However, the sport is beginning to take hold at the Under 11, Under-13, and Under-15 levels among American born girls in the American schools system. That initiative is sustained by the United States Youth Cricket Association and dedicated youth cricket enthusiasts like Jatin Patel and Priya Singh, members of the American Cricket Federation’s administrative body, among others.
In an alpha male society such as the USA, where sport is dominated by the brothers and there is not enough Title IX opportunities for the sisters, a sport such as cricket can take off, because it embodies all that is already familiar to the female gender; group spirit, sisterhood, sense of caring, nurturing, community, maternal instincts, competitiveness, aspirations, perseverance, cherished success, etc., etc., With more that 160,000,000 females in the US, and 58% of all college students being women, many female college students are looking for an alternative sport to play during their college years. Cricket, can become very attractive to female college students sitting on the benches of other sports they will probably never walk on the field to play. Cricket is a team sport to which they can attach themselves; the raw material is available.
In less than a dozen years, USA women’s soccer had evolved into a 1999 World Cup victory, with Mia Hamm scoring her 108th career goal to surpass Italy’s Elisabetta Vignotto, catapulting Hamm into the spotlight as the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer. On the USA winning the FIFA Women’s Soccer World Cup, Mia Hamm said, “We don’t want it to be remembered just for the US, we want it to be remembered as a life changing moment for women’s sport.” And indeed it was.
Brandi Chastain whipping off her soccer shirt in front of 40,000,000 Americans and a worldwide audience of one billion, was certainly one of the most defining and dramatic moments in the history of women’s sports, and American soccer. However, it did not just happen on that day in 1999. Women’s soccer had already become the darling of a sports hungry America, and sports fans across so many sporting cultures embraced the American women soccer players.
Petal Samuels (right) is President of the Georgia Women Cricket Association.
Women’s cricket can do for America, what women’s soccer did for this country. However, three things need to occur – a demonstrated passion for the sport by a core group of players with a defined objective to help the sport grow at the grassroots level, an organization dedicated to providing the structure to support its growth, and last but not least the corporate financial support required to sustain the growth of the sport, especially among 10-15 year old female players.
Cricket can become the next frontier in American sport, simply by its Cinderella nature as an unheralded sport, looking for a fairy godmother, or godfather to embrace and support its being. That godparent can be found in the American marketplace, where women influence more than 80% of all consumer purchasing decisions. The power of the support for a surge in bank rolling women’s cricket lies in tapping into the consumer marketplace so solidly supported by women. American women spend more than $7 trillion dollars annually, and influence consumer purchases, by buying more than 60% of all cars purchased, and own more than 40% of all stocks.
According to Sheconomy – a guy’s guide to marketing to women, women are into sport, with more women watching the Super Bowl than the Oscars each year. 46% of Super Bowl viewers are women an increase of 14% over the last decade, or so. Women are getting more and more into sport as an active and healthy lifestyle. If cricket is marketed along those sporting cultural lines, more women are apt to adopt the sport, and corporate America would come to accept that there is a ready-made sporting niche and an audience ready to adopt cricket, as much as it did with women’s soccer. It has been reported that products made specifically for women make up 17% of sports apparel, up from zero ten years ago.
Almost 50% of American women identify themselves as Major League Baseball fans. Such a fan base can be tapped into, more so since many women softball players have made the transition to women’s cricket, with two such players having already represented the USA at cricket – Sandra Ibarra and Erica Rendler.
The American Cricket Federation is poised to take women’s cricket to the next level in America, as a sport all American women can enjoy. The American Cricket Federation has declared May 18-24 “Women’s Cricket Awareness Week” in the USA, and culminating with the Atlanta Women’s T20 Cricket Tournament being held in Georgia under the auspices of the Georgia Women Cricket Association.
According to Petal Samuels, President of the Georgia Women Cricket Association, “The GWCA wishes to thank the ACF for its sponsorship and support over the past two years.” She stated that she was speaking on behalf of the women who have benefitted from ACF’s sponsorship, stating, “With your (ACF) assistance, the GWCA is making women’s cricket visible and providing a platform for the growth of the sport among women,” adding, “The GWCA wishes the ACF tremendous success, as the organization continues to grow cricket in America.”