The Village People: Inside the WBBL bubble
From hard quarantines to movie nights, the story of the Women's Big Bash hub is one of challenges overcome and excitement ahead
24 October 2020, 01:49 PM AEST
One competition. Five venues. Thirty-five days. Fifty-nine matches. Two hundred and fifty players, coaches and officials.
They're the top-level numbers for the sixth edition of the Rebel Women's Big Bash League but they don't scratch the surface when it comes to detailing what has gone into actually organising the event itself, which begins from Sunday, with all involved to be based at a bio-secure hub at Sydney Olympic Park in between games and training.
Sporting hubs are nothing new in the era of COVID19, but where the WBBL differs is the length to which some have gone to in order to take part; up to 50 players and officials, including some of the world's leading female cricketers, were confined to a hotel for two weeks of hard quarantine before they were cleared to join the hub this week.
While the players who arrived from Victoria were permitted to train in a tightly-controlled environment during their quarantine period, those from abroad – including the national captains of England, South Africa and the West Indies – were unable to leave their hotel rooms for the fortnight, in keeping with Australia's tough restrictions on international arrivals.
But with the coronavirus still active in New South Wales, albeit at low levels compared to other parts of the world, one of the strangest challenges over the next five weeks will be faced by those who call Sydney home.
While the Australian Football League's hub in Queensland this year did not include players and coaches from the local Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns clubs (who were allowed to stay at home during the season), all WBBL players, coaches and officials are not permitted to mingle with those outside the hub, meaning Sydneysiders will be confined to the village like everyone else, despite friends and family potentially being just kilometres away.
Family members have been invited to be part of the bubble should they choose, but few have taken up the option at this stage given they would then be under the same restrictions as those already in the village.
One pair to have taken up that option is Kiwi couple Amy Satterthwaite and Lea Tahuhu of the Melbourne Renegades, who have a nanny with them (as well as a few hundred aspiring aunties) to look after their 10-month-old baby Grace between matches and training sessions.
Some of the youngers players, meanwhile, face the considerable challenge of completing their Year 12 exams while in the village, away from their teachers and classmates.
"There's sacrifice across the board," Cricket Australia's Head of the Big Bash Leagues, Alistair Dobson, said recently.
"There's players coming in from around the world who we're really excited to have … the sacrifice they've had to make for a couple of weeks in quarantine. Equally, players and officials from Victoria have been in quarantine in Sydney for the past couple of weeks … the sacrifice to leave their families ahead of a long summer is huge.
Here's when to get yourself in front of a TV for the first round of matches! 📺🏏 More details: https://t.co/T13zUAkHXV #WBBL06 pic.twitter.com/H9JNe29Lht— Rebel Women's Big Bash League (@WBBL) October 22, 2020
"Even players in Sydney for their home competition, for the safety and security of the competition and their own wellbeing, they've come into the village. We certainly don't take that for granted, that's an enormous sacrifice."
But at least the coffee and wifi are free. In fact, while there has been talk of sacrifice, many players have already acknowledged a wider perspective, viewing theirs as a position of good fortune when compared with many others throughout the pandemic.
Given exclusive access to two adjoining hotels that are adjacent to the former Olympic Stadium in Homebush, Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association have gone to great lengths to make life in the bubble as enjoyable as possible.
There's an on-site barista, a golf simulator and a games room, while players and staff can have groceries and hot meals delivered, outside those on offer at scheduled meal times.
CA has also employed a live-in 'entertainment officer' who will co-ordinate yoga sessions and movie nights throughout the tournament as well as activities around the football grand finals this weekend, the Melbourne Cup and Halloween.
Perhaps most importantly of all, mental health professionals will be available to provide valuable support.
All of which hasn't come cheap. The establishment of the WBBL village to carry out a full 59-game season has come at enormous effort and expense at a time when perhaps a less complicated option – especially in the context of staff redundancies and budget cuts at Cricket Australia and across the states this year – would have been for the tournament to be shortened like most other elite competitions around the country this year.
While we wait for October 25 to arrive, let's revisit the eight best catches from last season! 🤩🙌 pic.twitter.com/PmJEaPOGrR— Rebel Women's Big Bash League (@WBBL) October 19, 2020
"The commitment from our clubs, the ACA and the cricket community in general to get the WBBL season up and running as been enormous," Dobson added.
"There's always been a bit of uncertainty, but the strength of the competition and the commitment from our partners means we were always going to give it a red-hot go.
"Part of what we're trying to set up is ... an experience that is positive and not the hard bubble that other competitions have gone through."
Let the games begin.