I write this a few weeks after England have been crowned cricket world champions. The nation is surprised as this is both front and back page headlines because, this year, the world champions are women. The final between India and England was played to a full house at Lords and the media coverage across the world was unprecedented.
The growth of women’s cricket, and of this tournament in particular has begun to provide a greater number of role models for girls and women to get involved in a sport. I imagine that previously, cricket wasn’t even on the radar for so many. It’s too soon to measure the impact, but that India was in the final could change the lives of so many girls in that country alone by giving recognition to a sport that, I believe, anyone can play. It’s been estimated that 126 million people in India watched that cricket match.
Cricket is traditionally a male preserve and for a long time, the game was skewed towards the gentlemen of society. However, as the male sport grew it demonstrated its accessibility through being able to mix a team of “amateurs” and “professionals” (or Gentlemen and Players) – where status was determined by background rather than skill level, but enabling a mixing of different parts of society.
From seeing my local women’s team grow over the last couple of years, the pattern seems familiar. The stalwarts are the ladies with cricket in the family – either from fathers, or husbands or brothers or sons who play – who have spent many an hour at the cricket club and decided that they would give it a go. These ladies brought friends along, who brought more friends along until there was a critical mass that attracted new players who had no previous interest in the game. And genuinely anyone can play. It can be a matter of days between signing up, attending a practice session and playing in a match. And you can genuinely play your part in the team, it’s not just about making up the numbers. I’m not sure that there are many sports that this can apply to.
I know from my niece’s experience that youth cricket is growing for girls as well. With mixed teams, and the sport being offered to all at school, this can’t help but grow the cricketing community at all levels. And it is a community – games tend to be on the long side and there’s always a cup of tea or a glass of beer to be drunk after a match, not to mention the half-time tea break which can be anything from traditional cake and sandwiches to a fabulous offering of Indian tapas. And for the youngsters, training sessions seem to be paired with BBQs: good for the players and the parents.
So what? Why am I telling you about all of this? What does it mean for you? Well, if you’re female it will benefit you in many ways to get involved in sport. As I learnt from Anna Kessel’s book Eat, Sweat Play, women with sports backgrounds are more likely to reach the top of the career ladder. Apart from the obvious team-work skills, sport can help you learn how to win, lose, succeed and fail. One of the more important aspects is the resilience that you learn: the ability to bounce back from setbacks of any size. And cricket, in my experience is an easy entry point to sport.
The impact of more women participating in sport can surely only be positive. It could be a starting point for equality in all sections of society, from a reduction in the pay-gap to a reconsideration of body image and gender stereotypes, And that’s in this country, or the western world. If we expand it to India, where the impact of one cricket match will be huge, or perhaps to Africa where the starting point is low, to say the least.
And that’s why I’m writing. There are too many children in Africa who don’t get to play sport. They don’t get to enjoy it, and they don’t get to benefit from it – both girls and boys. Cricket without Boundaries is a small charity that provides cricket development in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Working with the National Cricket Associations in each country, two week project teams help the development of grass roots cricket through coaching basic skills in schools and communities. In addition to enabling the community in playing cricket and encouraging inclusivity, the charity also deliver life changing health and social messages through cricket most notably about HIV and FGM. Ambassadors continue the in country work between project blocks to maintain the momentum. Take Uganda for example, where HIV rates dropped, but since 2013 it is reported that rates are increasing with 83,000 new infections in 2015. No matter the absolute numbers, it is safe to say that the majority of the population is infected or affected by HIV. Through cricket, messages about prevention, testing and challenging the stigma of HIV are delivered. And what better way to demonstrate the importance of cricket – life changing. Life saving. And helping all to live a happier healthier life, men and women, boys and girls,wherever you are in the world.
I’ve been inspired to write this article to help in my fundraising to support all the work of Cricket without Boundaries and your donation will be gratefully received. It’s easy to donate online here.
Eat Sweat Play. How sport can change our lives, Anna Kessel