Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
England and Australia have pulled the rug out from underneath the proposal for a two-week Women's International Cricket League in Singapore, leaving its organisers to lament the lack of opportunities for female cricketers to enjoy the plentiful options afforded to men in Twenty20.
While early reports about the WICL, for which the former Australia spin bowler Lisa Sthalekar is the director, had indicated tentative support for the concept from Cricket Australia, the tournament was disapproved at the ICC chief executives committee meeting in January, meaning no current international players would be permitted to play in it.
The basis for the disapproval stems largely from the event's private ownership model, which recalled the Indian Cricket League and World Series Cricket decades before. However, Sthalekar said in a statement that the WICL would keep striving to provide the same opportunities to women that had been granted to men, namely through the flourishing network of domestic T20 tournaments that grew out of the success of the IPL.
"WICL is disappointed not only for the players as they are being potentially denied a great opportunity, but also for all the female coaches, commentators, medical staff and administrative personnel that we seek to create opportunity for," Sthalekar said. "We will continue to work with key stakeholders in an effort to provide all women with the same opportunities as their male counterparts and the right to choose how they plan and develop their careers."
The first signs of trouble for the WICL became evident on Wednesday with the ECB chairman Giles Clarke's declaration "there is no support or interest for this proposed event". Clare Connor, the head of women's cricket at the ECB and the chair of the ICC women's cricket committee, outlined her board's opposition to the concept and directed the public towards women's ICC events as the shop window for the game.
"There has been a lot of misleading and as yet unsubstantiated information around how far advanced the proposed WICL is," she said. "I stress that from an ECB perspective this competition is not on our agenda.
"ICC and its members do not recognise privately owned tournaments or leagues in the men's or women's game. The ICC and the members have made significant investment into women's cricket over the ten years to create a commercially viable product. In particular there is recognition that a Women's World Twenty20 every two years will be the vehicle through which to build commercial investment in the women's game, and it is for the ICC and the members to capitalise on this and take it forward.
"Any Twenty20 tournament that features the best players in the world outside ICC competitions would need to be run and controlled by one of the full members, as opposed to by a private operator."
Pat Howard, Cricket Australia's general manager of team performance for both men's and women's teams, noted the proposal for a women's Big Bash League while also emphasising CA's opposition to the idea.
"In relation to comments by the WICL, CA has not endorsed the competition in any way," he said. "The proposed Women's International Cricket League has also recently been discussed by the ICC and its Members, and was not supported. However, we are highly committed to developing female cricket at all levels of the game as we work to make it Australia's favourite sport for women and girls.
"We are working hard to professionalise the women's game and last year's restructuring of the contracting system for female international and state cricketers has seen our elite players become some of the best paid female athletes in the country. We are continuing to provide our elite players with further opportunities. This includes developing a model for a women's T20 Big Bash League, which is seen as an important step in further professionalising women's cricket.
"As a result of these efforts, female cricket participation at the grassroots level is at an all-time high, with a 18% increase from 2012-13 taking us to 180,000 female participants."
Paul Marsh, the executive chairman of the Federation of International Cricketers Associations (FICA) said both the body and the Australian Cricketers Association remained supportive of the WICL concept, and hoped that further dialogue would evolve from the current state of opposition.
"Whilst we understand the reasons why the ICC and its members don't support private ownership, we believe women's cricket is different as an investment in the women's game is lacking and here is an opportunity to use private investors to take the risk the game isn't prepared to take," he said. "We certainly hope that the ICC and its members will continue discussions with WICL to try to find a way forward."