The wonderfully named (and cute) ‘Ebony-Jewel Cora-Lee Camellia Rosamond Rainford-Brent’, a fast bowler and England’s first black player, has said the girls should be ‘sexier’ to sell their sport, on and off the field. In the early days of women’s international cricket, the England girls would wear men’s kit and it would be baggy and less than flattering. Now the kit is more ‘tailored’ for the girls and there are calls by the players themselves for it to be tighter still. The women play in front of empty stadiums and even when they shared the sold out World Twenty20 Finals day last week as the warm up act for hosts Sri Lanka versus the West Indies, few fans turned up early to watch them. It’s the same with most women sports when it’s the only gig on the card. The fact is there is little interest in women’s sport outside America, especially cricket, and that success is only flourishing because of their expansive, well funded and democratic American college system that sees all sports get similar budgets.
Women’s sport that is successful on the world stage tends to share the stage with men’s sport, like athletics and tennis. Would Wimbledon without men be the sell out it is? In Italy they split women and men for their big tennis championship and the women’s event is ‘quiet’. The female and corporate spectators prefer men’s tennis, simply put. If women don’t support women’s sport by attending, it has no chance to catch up with its male counterpart. Right now they don’t. Yes, women’s football in London got 70,000 spectators at the Olympics but the crowd was there more for the Olympics than the gender. Women’s sport cannot stand alone and they certainly don’t attract the sponsors and money. The England women’s cricket team are professional and in good shape and perform to a decent standard and I’m certainly not saying they stand no chance but they would lose to a top men’s club side.
West Indies, the Men’s Twenty20 winners, got $500,000 last week for winning; the victorious Australian women got $55,000. The women’s expenses for the tournament were considerably lower too. But the reality is they don’t generate any revenue for the tournament. In women’s sport, sex appeal sells, but female sporting ability, not so much. Maria Sharapova is still female sports’ top earner alongside Serena Williams. Her eyes are still sharp and beautiful and beauty still in prime. A pretty player ranked 35 will earn more than the current world number five from sponsors and appearances. There are a lot better players out there but they are not as sexy as Maria. She gobbles up the sponsors cash along with five or six other cute players.
Coming back to women’s cricket, and you have to say it’s nowhere near as enjoyable as men’s cricket. In fact if men’s cricket wasn’t such a strong product, the girl’s team wouldn’t exist. England are only the best as they are semi-professional and the best funded team by far, the conduit for paying them to play via coaching contracts to teach kids and adults around the country. Women’s top level international football is fine and I like the way it’s not cynical and played in an open style but women’s Twenty20 is not, purely because the girls don’t have the strength to clear the ropes, the whole point of Twenty20. Like the goalies in female soccer, the fielding is poor in women’s cricket and responsible for quite a few boundaries. The weak hitting and long boundaries strangle any entertainment. You are lucky to get a six in their matches. If they did stack on the muscles to do that, the sport would ironically lose any appeal it has built up. You guys all know who won the Olympics women’s heptathlon but not the individual hammer. Jessica Ennis is gorgeous. All power and girth Tatiana Lysenko isn’t so ‘cute’. And sadly, they don’t get the same attention. Plenty of female Twenty20 cricket stars are pretty and so expect to see more of them now if their sport is to move forward.
Another issue for women’s sport like cricket is participation, too many young girls not too keen on having athletic bodies as it’s not that ‘feminine’. Women’s cricket just ten years ago was mostly tomboys and Brighton College alumni. Ennis looks incredible, as do most of the girls on the track, but women’s lifestyle magazines that seem to shape young women’s lives these days, don’t want to promote that athletic image as it doesn’t sell their magazines. Kate Moss over Charlotte Edwards (England’s cricket captain) every time, smoking and looking pretty to get the boys; it’s an easier life. One German magazine chose to go six months without using skinny professional models and concentrate on ‘real’ women ‘in their publications. But high street sales fell 30% because women want to be inspired by those images to achieve the impossible and so don’t really want to see themselves with staples in their exposed bellies. Men watch men’s sport because they want to be them whereas it’s not the case with women. That is why women just don’t connect to women’s sport.
Even though England didn’t win the Twenty20 to hold the Hatrick of best Test and 50 over team, they had won 22 straight Twenty20 matches leading up to the World20 last week. On their game, they are unbeatable and it’s only a freak individual knock by the other team that beats them. Twenty20 games are often won by the big over between equal teams but only Australia can live with England now, Aussie Jess Cameron delivering with a rapid and streaky 45 to be the difference. If the other nations don’t find some money for their female teams soon, there will be no women’s international cricket to speak of. And all those women who speak in defence of women’s cricket need to start attending those matches as you are lucky to get 300 in for an England women’s match in Britain. I have watched a couple of women’s T20 games at Northampton in England and there were barely 150 people there, mostly members because it was free, just 48 actually paying to get in at £5.