March 20, 2016

Women mean business too

That the women players flew economy class to India for the World T20 shows that the ICC still has much to do to establish equality with the men

The England players themselves, both men and women, have underplayed the issue of flight arrangements to India © Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago we broke a story on CRICKETher about England Women being flown out to the World T20 in India in cattle class, while the men's team travelled in business class. They were not alone. It is the ICC that arranges and funds flights for world tournaments; all other women's teams - bar Australia, who were upgraded to business class* by CA - also flew to the tournament in economy.

It's a story that was subsequently picked up by several media outlets, including ESPNcricinfo. The official response to the story from the ICC has been that they have already placed a huge amount of investment and resources into developing the women's game in recent times. Prize money, they say, has increased for the women's competition by 400%. And this time round, with an increased number of playing venues from 2014, there is "a genuine integration of the competition with the men's event".

Sometimes I think that cricket officials must read my articles and think: what are you complaining about?

So why did we break that story?

Partly because I believe that it is a situation that needs to change. Most boards have been keen to stress that the players themselves are not bothered about it - and certainly it's true that if you had to choose between flying economy to a World Cup and not playing in the tournament at all, you'd want to be there every time. All the same, it's hard to imagine that the players really don't ever question the fact that their gender automatically consigns them to a seat at the back of the plane.

England's new coach, Mark Robinson - who is refreshingly honest in his approach to the media - said it all: "In a perfect world we'd have gone in economy plus, which does make a difference." Of course it does. These are athletes and the physical condition in which they arrive at the tournament is integral to their performance.

And if you think it doesn't make a difference, why bother spending more than £30,000 extra sending your men's team to the tournament in business class?

Here's another reason why we broke the story. As a journalist who supports equality for the women's game, I want to drive change wherever I can. And where the ICC has enacted change, it does seem to have come about as the result of media pressure to do so. Just prior to the 2012 World T20, a fuss was rightly made about the disparity in living expenses between the men's and the women's squads. The men received £61 in daily living expenses; the women got £37 per day. "Obviously the guys have a bigger appetite than the women," said Charlotte Edwards, tongue firmly in cheek, when asked to comment on the issue.

It made the ICC look, frankly, rather silly. Not surprisingly, by the time of the last tournament in 2014, the daily living expenses for men and women had been equalised.

Rumour has it that at the most recent ICC meeting, it was decided that men and women would be treated equally in future flight and accommodation arrangements. However, the policy has not yet been signed off by the finance committee. It's to be hoped that the ICC will follow through on this - but given that they have now been in charge of women's cricket for over a decade, and this appears to be the first time they've felt the need to sort this issue out, it's necessary to continue to hold up the current arrangements for scrutiny in the eyes of the world's media.

It might be suggested that in the scheme of things flights aren't really that significant an issue. However, much like the quest for equal prize money, I'd argue that it is incredibly important symbolically

This is especially true given that there seems to have been a policy, or at least an unspoken agreement, to consciously not draw attention to the flights issue this time around. Note the distinct lack of "aeroplane selfies" on Twitter, from both men's and women's teams, which you would usually see aplenty prior to overseas tours. This is surely not just coincidence. The point is this: that in 2016, when male cricketers are travelling business and female cricketers are not, it looks pretty damn bad.

Presumably, the ICC would say that there are economic arguments in favour of continuing an inequitable travel policy, hence why they've kept it in place for the past decade. If you want to make that argument, then fine - but do it out in the open, instead of trying to cover it up. Please don't try and have your cake and eat it too.

It might be suggested, I suppose, that in the scheme of things flights aren't really that significant an issue. However, much like the quest for equal prize money, I'd argue that it is incredibly important symbolically. It also has much to tell us about the ICC's attitude towards the women's tournament more broadly.

In December 2007, when it was first announced that the women would have a World T20 tournament scheduled at the same time as the men's, the news was greeted with widespread excitement. The ICC's annual report from 2009-10 summarised this well, stating: "The integration of the women's and men's competitions in the ICC World Twenty20 has been one of the greatest innovations not just in cricket but in any sport… Talk to any player in the women's game and they will all tell you of their excitement in sharing the same stage as the men and also of playing on television in front of an audience which can be counted in hundreds of millions."

Except for the fact that this is now the fifth "joint" World T20 tournament, and I'd still have to get on a flight to India in order to watch all of England's group matches. And except for the fact that a distinct lack of local publicity means that most of the women's matches are currently being played out to nearly empty stadiums.

Rhetoric is all well and good, but the whole point of joint tournaments is that they are supposed to be joined together. If one is treated in a patently unequal fashion, it rather defeats the object.

It's really the same principle as telling the Associate teams that they are participating in the same tournament as the Full Members, while at the same time making what was theoretically the "group stage" feel in practice like another qualifying stage. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

I applaud the ICC for everything they have done for women's cricket since they took over the running of the sport in 2005. But there will be a lot of celebration of "how far women's cricket has come" during this tournament. Let's not kid ourselves that, in the road towards real equality, we haven't still got the hardest miles to travel.

*07:34:33 GMT, March 21: The article originally said that the Australia team flew premium economy

Raf Nicholson is an England supporter, a feminist, and has recently completed a doctoral thesis on the history of women's cricket. @RafNicholson