Women’s sport Saturday: Clare Connor concerned over global women’s cricket

Venue: Incora County Ground, Derby Dates: 21, 23, 26, 28, 30 September
Coverage: Third T20 live on BBC TV. Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on all games. Highlights on BBC TV, live text commentary and in-play clips on BBC Sport website & app

It is “highly likely” that some nations will cut the resources for the women’s game because of the coronavirus pandemic, says England director of women’s cricket Clare Connor.

The Women’s World Cup, due to be played in early 2021, has been postponed, partly because of the lack of women’s cricket being played in some countries.

“It’s worrying,” Connor told BBC Sport.

“Some boards will struggle over the next year, if they’re not already struggling already. It is a concern.”

Connor, 44, said she was “thrilled” that England were able to play a five-match Twenty20 series against West Indies after India and South Africa pulled out of travelling.

The postponed World Cup is now set to be played in 2022, the same year as the Women’s T20 World Cup and women’s cricket’s debut in the Commonwealth Games.

“Unless we get international women’s cricket played regularly across 2021, we’re going to be facing the same concern going into 2022,” said Connor, who is also the chair of the International Cricket Council’s women’s committee.

“The worry is that other boards won’t be able to invest the same level of finance, focus and commitment that the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) and one or two others are more easily able to do.”

In a wide-ranging interview to mark the third T20 between England and West Indies being shown live on BBC Two on Saturday from 12:45 BST and the ECB’s Women’s Big Cricket Month, Connor also discussed:

  • Plans for England women to tour New Zealand in early 2021
  • The possibility of no crowds being in attendance at home matches in 2021
  • The financial viability of the women’s game

On Friday, the New Zealand government gave approval for international cricket to take place in the country over the coming months.

England were due to travel to New Zealand for the World Cup in February and March, and are now set to use that window to take on the White Ferns and Australia.

“That is what we’re aiming for,” said Connor, a former England captain. “We’ve made some good progress.

“Those conversations are under way and we would be very confident of England women touring New Zealand in February and March.”

Connor is also hopeful that England will be able to host two touring teams in the home summer of 2021, but acknowledged that the possibility of matches once again taking place in empty stadiums would be “doubly devastating”.

All international cricket this summer – men’s and women’s – has been held behind closed doors in a bio-secure environment.

Earlier this week, it was announced that spectators may not be able to return to watching live sporting events in England until the end of March at the earliest.

In addition, adult indoor sports are permitted to be played by groups of six people or less.

“We are in a state of uncertainty about the whole winter and next year,” said Connor. “What does the winter look like for male and female cricketers who have to train indoors?

“Next year is a huge concern. If cricket is unable to sell tickets, that is doubly devastating, firstly for our relationship with the fans, but also the financial challenge that looms large again. Another summer without crowds and you’re talking about a huge financial threat.”

In May this year, when international schedules remained uncertain, Connor said she was “realistic” about men’s fixtures being prioritised ahead of women’s.

While she says the women’s game does not have the commercial viability she would like, Connor is certain demand is growing.

“The world is changing,” she said. “People do expect equal opportunities.

“Yes, we have a long way to go around commercial returns for women’s cricket, but it is a building process. We are making good progress.”

Just before coronavirus took hold across the globe, more than 86,000 spectators watched Australia beat India in the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup in Melbourne.

Connor said that memory “reminds her what is possible” for the women’s game, despite the pandemic.

“The narrative was about women’s sport being disproportionately affected compared to men’s sport,” she said. “That was really concerning, but it also fuelled me to make sure that wasn’t our reality.

“The appetite for international women’s cricket was that strong just six months ago.

“I’m sure it will come back. Yes, there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge until we get to that point, but I’m still really pleased with what we have achieved in the past six months.”

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