Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to attract more women to cricket: a response

In Matt Cleary's latest post for Cricinfo's The Cordon, 'How to attract more women to cricket', he writes this:

As for attracting women to the games, it's not as hard as one might think. In spring and autumn, Australian race-tracks are filled with young women who go along to dress up and drink champagne, and have a bet on a horse and a laugh with their friends. They go to flirt and look at boys in suits. And it's all good. They spend a bunch of money and everyone's happy.
Surely cricket can have champagne bars. And boys in suits. And girls can learn to love the game and understand that you don't actually "watch" every ball or every movement on the field, because there's often not much going on and you would go blind.

I appreciate that Cleary is referring to the Australian context and, sadly, I have never set foot on Australian soil (one day, Aussies, one day). But the issue of attracting women to international cricket matches is a global one and as precisely the same gender imbalance applies at every men's cricket match in England I have ever attended, the methods we should use to tackle this imbalance are presumably also very similar.

I agree with Matt Cleary on one thing: we need to think seriously about how to encourage women to rock up at cricket games. But as a woman who attends matches every summer, and considers herself a big fan of the game, I'm not sure that I agree on the methods.

Here's the problem: women don't feel like we belong at cricket grounds. So how do we attract more women to cricket? I've compiled a bit of a list. It isn't exhaustive by any means, and it won't solve the problem overnight - but I reckon it might make a difference.

1. Don't assume cricket fans are men.
When you repeatedly receive emails from Lord's which begin "Dear Sir", it's a little awkward. Not to mention horribly outdated.

Newsflash: women like cricket too. There are far more female fans than there are women going to games. Maybe part of the problem is the cricket authorities assuming we don't want to watch the cricket, when actually, there might just be other reasons preventing us coming to matches.

2. Make cricket grounds child-friendly.
Not that this should be the case, but women are still often the ones left holding the babies. Newsflash #2: It's hard to travel to cricket matches with a baby. Couldn't those in charge make it a bit easier? Make the changing facilities a bit better. Provide space to put the buggies. Free baby food with every pint of Guinness (bleurgh). Anything to make it seem that babies at cricket matches are welcome, rather than a nuisance.

3. Have a few female club members show up.
You know those shots on TV when they zoom in on the members, and they're all men? I know you do; it happens every Test. It's not the greatest advert for county cricket clubs in the world, to be honest. It's also a little off-putting.

If there were more female club members, more women would attend matches. And then they'd be on the TV. And then more women would want to join the club. Win-win for the club, right?

Admittedly, I may be exaggerating this problem, because I spend most of my time at Lord's. Every single MCC member that you see is a bloke. And when you remember that the MCC only let in female members with great reluctance 14 years ago, it doesn't exactly make you feel at home.

All of which brings me on to my next point:

4. Make cricket grounds feel more "gender-neutral".
Women exist. Hello. We also play cricket, and have done since the 18th century. You wouldn't think that if you rocked up at any cricket ground round the world, and had a stroll round. Read the names on the gates. Look at the statues. Go inside and look at some of the photos on display.

Here's an idea: build a Rachael Heyhoe-Flint statue at Lord's, to honour her successful campaign for female membership of the MCC. Or put in an Enid Bakewell gate at Trent Bridge.

Anything to show that cricket grounds aren't exclusively male spaces. Because it sometimes feels that way at the moment.

5. Don't have female cheerleaders at the IPL.
When women watch (men's) cricket, do we see other women? Not very often. And when we do, who do we see? Stunningly beautiful, skinny, skimpily-dressed IPL cheerleaders. And you wonder why we don't want to rock up at the Oval in an "I love cricket" hoodie and jeans (the weather doesn't usually allow for less).

How about more female cricket presenters? How about more female commentators on TMS, and not just during women's tournaments? (The Sofa are better than most at this, which is encouraging, but nobody's perfect.) How about a female umpire or groundsman? How about having a woman ring the bell to signal the start of play at Lord's? Or - now this would be fun - have a woman announcer.

If we see women involved in cricket matches, and not just as objects of fawning male admiration, we might end up being more likely to come along.

6. Promote women's cricket.
I'm boringly predictable, aren't I? Good.

It's part of the same thing, really. The point is that those involved in the game need to show that women and cricket do mix, to disprove the feeling many women experience that we need to keep quiet about the fact that we love a game which "only men can really understand". If we can read every day about other women who play the game a damn sight better than most men we know, it'd be pretty encouraging.

Why do you think that the only matches with more female spectators than male are women's matches? It's because it's a place where women feel we are allowed to like cricket. If we felt the same at men's matches...well, you do the maths.

Finally, don't patronise us. I've understood the laws of cricket since I was 10. I may be female, but I don't need champagne or boys in suits to make me head to Lord's or The Oval on a summer weekend.

And, unlike my dad, who normally fits in a snooze somewhere between lunch and tea, I quite like watching every ball.

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