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Belinda Clark on advancing gender equality in Cricket’s Next Innings

Cricket Australia has recently released its ‘The Next Innings: Accelerating Female Participation’ strategy and Australian cricket legend Belinda Clark guides us through it.

Image: Cricket Australia

In an ongoing commitment to continue to drive gender equity in cricket, Cricket Australia recently released ‘The Next Innings: Accelerating Female Participation’ strategy. 

The new strategy outlines ‘the unique challenges of expanding participation among women and girls over the next four years as well as the work being done to support the clubs who are nurturing the current and future generations of players, coaches, officials and administrators.’

Belinda Clark, former Cricket Australia Executive General Manager of Community Cricket and former Australian Captain spoke about the work involved in bringing this new strategy to life. 

“We knew that the previous four-year strategy was coming to an end and we knew that the T20 World Cup would be a really important point in the sports history. So what we were trying to do was gather insights and start the strategy work before the World Cup, and then be in a position post the World Cup to launch and make sure we capitalised on the interest that it generated”

During the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Final in March, thousands watched their heroes claim the trophy in front of a record-breaking crowd of 86,174 at the MCG and while COVID-19 may have disrupted the natural momentum from such a world-class event, this new strategy formed part of a long-term commitment to women and girls before the pandemic.

For those cricket fans who went to or watched Australia win that momentous T20 World Cup Final just before live sport came to a grinding halt in March, early fears were palpable as worry grew about lost opportunities for women in sport across the board when cuts to resources were inevitable.

“I think it’s always a risk when finances are under pressure, that you lose the ability to sort of resource your intent.” Clark said. “So that would be one area that we were trying to protect. And the other thing was making sure we kept our partnerships on board with the Commonwealth Bank, who have been amazing through this whole journey, going back well back into my playing days. But they’ve really been helpful in the participation element the last four years and they back this strategy. We were keen to make sure that we capitalised on their great work and try to keep them involved going forward.”

Clark is proud of the role that Cricket Australia’s sponsor has played to work with them to deliver the work they do in this space with this new strategy.

“They’ve been terrific. And the fact that they’re digging deeper into the sport has been really, really positive. Normally partners will just, you know, go with the national team or the very top end and they’ll just assume that the stuff that happens underneath just happens. But what they’ve done is, they’ve basically been involved on the whole journey, the whole pathway. And I think that’s been really important for us, not only from a financial perspective, but probably as importantly for messaging and getting the word out using their network. It’s really helpful.

They’re heavily attached to diversity and inclusion in their business. And we’ve just been the lucky ones alongside that, who have been able to ride the wave with them. And likewise, I think they’ve benefited greatly from the growth we’ve experienced in the game, and also the profile of our national players and the national team.”

These kinds of partnerships are becoming more and more embraced in the women in sport space. We are beginning to see examples of corporate partnerships that benefit greatly when they come to women’s sports for more than traditional sponsorship with the purposes of advertising their brand. Sponsors win when they show genuine commitment to the cause and work with teams to drive the sport forward, something fans of women’s sport see and value when connecting with their teams and their sponsors. 

Cricket Australia also recently announced a new partnership with Cadbury as the confectionary brand launched its national Women In Sport initiative, Get in the Game, which looks to further bring about another strategic partnership that aligns with the sport’s, the brand’s and importantly, the fans’ values.

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In conjunction with external researchers, ‘The Next Innings: Accelerating Female Participation’ strategy delivers 12 key insights that will help Australian Cricket continue to meet the challenges of growing participation among girls, increasing the pool of female coaches and creating positive club environments.

The insights are broken down into four ‘Game Changers’, which then form three priority areas of focus for the next three years, and three main actions.

To learn more about the focus areas, you can watch the strategy videos here.

For Clark, whose experience in the game is second to none, there are new areas to work on as Cricket moves forward to continue to deliver in the women and girls space, but also still a lot of work to do with areas that have been known barriers to participation for a long time.

“There’s some new things there, which are interesting. I think some of it, it was just nice to be able to put some evidence behind some hunches, and other parts of it, were like, ‘Okay, well, that’s, that’s really interesting’. 

For example, we were having slow progress in getting young girls involved in our entry level programs in the Woolworths Cricket Blast, and there’s a lot of effort going in, and there just wasn’t the uptake. And then last year, we saw a 25% increase in the number of young girls taking part in those programs. When you dig in behind the research, you find out that most of the time, young girls are taking to movement-based activities, whether that’s ballet or gymnastics or swimming. It’s not really ball or team sports. And if you sort of stop and think about that, you think, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s where mum or dad generally will take their daughters to start with. But all sports have to do a better job at making sure that young girls get a chance to play team sports earlier. That’s just an example of an insight that is sort of, if you stopped and reflected, you would think about that, but it’s nice to have it come through now that we can work with other sports, and we can work with the gyms and clubs, and we can work to just get girls involved in team sports a little bit earlier.”

One insight learned is not new by any means, but something that remains a huge cultural and physical barrier to women and girls feeling welcome in sport. Female friendly facilities.

“I remember fondly getting changed in the back of the car! And, and it’s interesting, because those things become physical barriers. So there’s an emotional barrier, which is what we were talking about before around, ‘Can I get my mind set to the point where [cricket] should be available [for girls]?’. And then there’s a physical barrier, or something that is a reminder for you to ask, ‘is this sport really for everyone?’. And that’s a long-term play, changing infrastructure like that. So one of the insights that came through the work was to make the most of what you have, just make it a little bit more accessible and a bit more friendly using temporary arrangements as well, like portables. So you don’t have to wait until every pavilion is female friendly across the country, that’s going to take ages and a lot of money. We’re working on that, we’ve invested a lot, but it’s a slow burn. So what the strategy is saying to us is don’t wait for that to happen, keep working on it, but keep thinking about new and innovative ways you can use temporary facilities as well.”

And it’s not just the change rooms.

“I think the messaging we send to people when [they] walk into a club room, it doesn’t really matter what sport it is, but if you walk in and you look at the honour boards, what names are on the honour boards? And you look at the pictures around and who are the pictures of? And who’s being celebrated and who is on the long list of who’s been the president of this club and how many females are on that list? So you start to get a feel for all of the subliminal messages we keep sending ourselves because of the environment we’re in. And it’s really just pulling those out. And so what do we want it to look like? What do we want people to feel? What do we want them to see? And it’s not just about women, it’s about the whole gamut of society that needs to be reflected on those in those pictures, on those boards.”

Clark is a passionate ambassador for community cricket and knows that for cricket to drive meaningful, systemic change, the work needs to be done at grassroots level, where resources are scarce and change is hard. She believes Cricket Australia can lead the way and show that change at that level is possible.

“I think lots of codes are stepping up to that challenge. I think cricket’s leading the way there. And we’ve got a very long deep history in the sport, but we’re essentially reinventing ourselves at the moment, and it’s just wonderful to see it all come to life. There’s still a lot of work to do, but transferring that enthusiasm from organisations like Cricket Australia, or the state and territories to the community level is critical because the change happens at the local club. That’s where the change happens. And what we’re seeing is a nice groundswell of support coming from the local level.”

While Clark has just announced that she is stepping down from the role after 30 years service to the game with this strategy forming one of her legacies, it appears Cricket’s cover drive for gender equity continues to be in good hands.

“I’m passionate about kids having a chance just to play sport. That’s what I’m most passionate about. And I’m passionate about girls having the same opportunities as boys, and whether that be on the sporting field or in other career paths as well. I just feel like sport is a great vehicle to address that inequality. That’s what drives me, making sure girls have got the same chances as boys.”

We look forward to seeing how Cricket Australia move to implement this strategy and what Clark does next to continue her work in the gender equality space.

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