Choose to Challenge: The long path to professionalism
The first in a series of articles highlighting the strides made in the women's game when people chose to challenge the status quo, and shining a light on the areas where work remains to be done
1 March 2021, 04:25 PM AEST
None of the 86,174 people who were at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 8 last year will forget watching Australia's triumph over India in the T20 World Cup final.
The record turnout on International Women's Day was the result of years of investment in the women's game, and the dedication of those who believed Australia's women deserved to stand on the biggest stage.
Drawing on the theme of this year's International Women's Day – Choose to Challenge – cricket.com.au is exploring the strides made in the women's game, and by women working in cricket, while also shining a light on the areas where work remains to be done.
We will cast an eye on the elite game, coaching, media and broadcast, administration, participation and pathways, as well as looking at the broader picture internationally.
First up, part one of an examination into the game at the elite level.
The path to professionalism
What's the current situation?
CONTRACTS AND PAY
From players having to pay their own way to go on tours to the nationally contracted group that is now the highest paid women's team in Australia, the professionalisation of the elite game has undergone a transformation across the past two decades.
Prior to the summer of 1998-99, players were forced to pay their own way to represent Australia; fast-bowling legend Cathryn Fitzpatrick famously worked as a garbage collector and a postie during her career.
The arrival of a ground-breaking partnership between the Australian team and the Commonwealth Bank in 1998-99 proved a gamechanger, with tours, uniforms and time off other work all subsidised.
"I thought I was one of the lucky ones," former Australia captain and CA executive Belinda Clark told The Scoop podcast earlier this year.
"I had to pay to play for Australia, but only for half of my career.
"We'd get a dreaded invoice at the end of a tour, anywhere (up to) a couple of thousand dollars.
"Then in 1997-98, Commonwealth Bank came on board so from there I no longer had to pay to play so I thought I was in the lucky bucket."
It would take another decade for contracts above and beyond basic expenses to be introduced, with retainers of $5000-$15,000 introduced, while female players became full members of the Australian Cricketers' Association from 2011.
"All of us still had to take annual leave (to play cricket)," Lisa Sthalekar explained last month.
"I never got a holiday, I never got a chance to chill out by the beach because all my annual leave was taken.
"I had to take annual leave to represent my state, even though it was the state association I was working for. It was difficult and challenging times."
In 2013, CA announced a major pay rise for the national team, with contracts ranging from $25,000- $52,000, plus tour payments and marketing bonuses.
But the greatest step to date came in 2017, when the latest memorandum of understanding was agreed and female players were included alongside the men in the revenue-sharing model for the first time.
Female player payments surged from $7.5 million to $55.2 million, and men and women share the same base-contract remuneration.
It took the minimum retainer for a CA-contracted woman from $40,000 to $72,076, while the average player was earning $180,000 – making them the best-paid Australian national women's team.
Domestic players also achieved semi-professionalism, as the minimum retainer leapt from $18,000 to $35,951 for someone holding both a state and WBBL deal.
As far as conditions are concerned, Australia's female players now rightfully enjoy a standard of travel and accommodation consistent with their male counterparts.
Australia led the way in that regard – at the 2016 World T20, when the ICC housed female players in twin-share rooms and flew them in economy, male players competing in the same tournament had single rooms and arrived in India on business class flights. Cricket Australia paid the difference to ensure their players, at least, shared the same conditions as the Australian men.
Since 2017, Australia's national sides have been referred to as the Australian Men's Cricket Team and Australian Women's Cricket Team, to ensure consistency, with the former 'Southern Stars' moniker shifting to a more colloquial nickname. For both teams, the series they are playing carries commercial partnership naming rights.
The women's development team, the Shooting Stars, is now referred to as Australia A, in line with the men.
A new parental policy introduced in 2019 saw maternity leave introduced in Australian cricket for the first time, supporting professional cricketers through pregnancy, adoption, their return to play and parental responsibilities.
It allows players who give birth or adopt to take up to 12 months of paid parental leave, while it also supports players who are primary carers after they return to the field, covering the costs associated with caring for their child and a carer – including accommodation and flights – until the child is four years old.
Players who take maternity leave will be guaranteed a contract extension the following year, while they will be able to transition into non-playing roles while pregnant until they give birth. They can then return to the field any time after giving birth, subject to medical clearance.
It also entitles players whose partner is pregnant or adopting, and who are not the primary carer, to three weeks of paid leave, taken anytime within 12 months of either the birth or adoption of their child.
Cricket Australia topped up the prizemoney won by Australia's women's at last year's T20 World Cup to ensure parity with the men's equivalent winnings.
The ICC increased the prizemoney pool for the 2020 event by 320 per cent on the 2018 tournament, with Australia as winners receiving US$1 million (A$1.278m) – a figure still well short of the US$1.6m men received at their last event in 2016.
As a result, CA made up the shortfall, tipping in a further A$767,000 to ensure parity.
The prizemoney on offer for the KFC BBL and the Rebel WBBL is equal.
Where do the gaps remain?
A disparity remains between the minimum retainers for men and women, both internationally and domestically.
For male internationals, the minimum retainer in the final year of the current MOU in 2021-22 will be $313,004, where the women's will be $87,609.
Domestically, the men's minimum state retainer will be $74,557 (the women's will be $27,287), and in the Big Bash, the men's minimum BBL retainer will be $40,064, and $11,584 in the WBBL for 2022.
This difference is due to the 'Base Rate of Pay' model used by CA and the ACA in the MOU to achieve gender equity. The model considers hours worked and then applies premiums for Australian players and commerciality of each competition.
Put simply, men play more cricket both internationally and domestically, therefore work more hours, while other factors including higher ground attendances and TV audiences also impact the pay model.
Even during the Australian women's team's busiest year yet, from June 2019 to the start of the pandemic in March 2020, they played a total of 33 matches, including one Test, nine ODIs and 20 T20Is – 33 days of cricket in total.
The Australian men played 10 Tests, 17 ODIs and nine T20Is across the same period. Taking into account Tests that finished early, there was a total of 69 days of cricket played (of 76 scheduled).
Where male state cricketers play in the Marsh Sheffield Shield and Marsh One-Day Cup, females only play in the 50-over Women's National Cricket League.
If a male cricketer played every possible day of cricket for his state in a normal non-COVID impacted season (including the final), he would play 44 days of Shield plus eight Marsh One-Day Cup matches; a total of 52 days of cricket.
Each WNCL side plays eight games per season, with the top two sides contesting the final, providing a maximum of just nine days of state cricket per summer.
As such, Australia's female domestic players are still classed as semi-professional, with many holding down jobs alongside their cricket.
In a column for Nine newspapers in mid-2020, Alyssa Healy expressed concern over the juggling act performed by her domestic counterparts, saying she believed players felt pressured to train above and beyond the hours they were paid for, and the number of matches played.
"Domestic female players are experiencing increased pressure to train 'over and above' their contractual obligations; many training for nine months of the year for a handful of WNCL and WBBL games," Healy wrote.
"With such expectation and increased demands from state associations and WBBL clubs, there is limited opportunity for many of our female domestic cricketers to build a second career outside of cricket.
"An increase in demand has not been matched with appropriate remuneration.
"As a result, many players are finding it very difficult to have a balanced life, which is resulting in an increased level of wellbeing concerns with the stress of finding a second income to cover daily living expenses."
The fact female players do not play multi-day cricket, with the exception of one Ashes Test every two years, also means fewer women are offered contracts by Cricket Australia (15 in 2020-21 compared to 20 men), or by the states (14 in 2020-21 compared to 19 men).
BBL teams can hand out contracts to 18 players, compared to 15 in the WBBL.
Increasing sponsorship, attendances and viewership of the women's game – not to mention an increasingly busy international calendar – could influence the next MOU, set to be negotiated ahead of the 2022-23 season.
Our Choose to Challenge series continues tomorrow as we take a deep dive into scheduling at home and abroad.