Thursday, November 18, 2010

The amateur/professional divide

One of the major divides in the history of men's cricket has been that of the amateur vs the professional, otherwise known as the gentlemen vs the players. Theoretically at least, professionals were paid for their cricket and amateurs were not. The divide, however, went far deeper than this. It was enhanced by the English class structure, in which the amateur was traditionally a member of the elite and did not need payment. Professionals relied on their wages to live. Almost right up until the divide was abolished in 1962, genetleman and players used separate dressing rooms and professionals were required to address amateurs as "sir".

Women's cricket has followed a different history. In common with other women's sports, it has always been and remains a largely amateur sport. Very few women have been able to consider playing cricket a career choice. Sadly, this reflects the complete disparity between men's and women's sports, and resulted in an often dire financial situation for the Women's Cricket Association (WCA), who despite England's triumph in the 1993 World Cup were unable to capitalise on this success as they faced near-bankruptcy after hosting the tournament, and were thereafter forced into a merger with the ECB from a position of weakness.

But, interestingly, there are suggestions that women continue to be proud of their amateur status. Karen Smithies, former England captain, put it like this:

women cricketers tend to be more vibrant, more enthusiastic, more committed, because they've given such a lot to play. You've got to want it desperately to be there. I've always said, between me and my parents, cricket's probably cost us fifteen or twenty thousand pounds in lost wages, travelling, kit – but I'd give it all again.

Even more interestingly from my perspective are the historical continuities between this account, and several quotes from Marjorie Pollard, one of the WCA's founders, who declared proudly in 1930 that women played the game "because we enjoy it", and not because of cash incentives.

The problem for women's cricket is that this attitude has often been accompanied by an elitist ethos similar to the one the MCC so successfully cultivated up until 1962, and that consequently women's cricket has remained inaccessible to the working-class woman. The continued lack of funding available for female seeking to play cricket suggests this may be another historical continuity, though one can speculate that the sport has become more readily available to the less privileged in recent years, in part due to the 1998 merger of the WCA with the ECB.

More recently, there have been signs of a conflict amongst those who wish to see women's cricket remain an amateur sport, played for enjoyment's sake only, and those who stress the urgency of enforcing higher standards of professionalism if women's cricket is to be taken seriously by the media. Davies highlighted this in his 1998 book Mad Dogs and English Women in which he reported comments made by England's then assistant coach Peter Moralee:

You'll go and see people playing these friendly games, they're putting on bowlers that are absolutely crap, they're letting the tail bat first – and how is that good for women's cricket? How is that serious? But if you say anything about it, they get all huffy.

There seems to be a clash of priorities at the heart of this: is the priority to make the game accessible and friendly for women of any age, or to ensure greater exposure in the international media spotlight? It is a difficult question to answer, and how you answer probably depends on the level of cricket that you play.

Looking to the future, the obvious question is: will there ever be fully professional female cricketers? There have been positive steps in this direction, the main one being the establishment of central contracts for 10 players by the ECB in 2008, though players are still required to spend 50% of their time coaching, and are therefore in my opinion only semi-professional. Meanwhile, the majority of women continue to play, often at far greater personal cost than their male counterparts, yet with far smaller rewards ultimately awaiting them.

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