Cricket Australia is considering curtailing their Women's Big Bash League this season, something several high profile players disagree with. Not only would it take away opportunity but it could send a dangerous message about the importance of women in the game.
It was reported late last month that Cricket Australia could shorten the WBBL by sixteen matches due to COVID-19 related costs cuts. Should the cost cutting measures go ahead with WBBL|06, this could result in teams playing 10 games this tournament instead of the previous 14.
Clubs were supposed to see budget predictions for both a shortened 40 match and a regular 56 match season before deciding. Another option being floated is the possibility of overlapping the WBBL season with the BBL season, instead of stand alone competition like last season.
A spokesperson for Cricket Australia stated "Everything is on the table at the moment, we are exploring all options. Nothing has been confirmed as we try to find the best solution." Cricket Australia is apparently looking to reduce costs by 25%.
At present no WBBL start date has been announced. Part of the reason for this may be due to the pending decision on the Men's Twenty20 World Cup, reported to take place on June 10. The tournament was due to be played from the October 18 to November 15. However, COVID-19 related issues may result in its delay.
The possibility of Men's T20 World Cup being postponed could seriously affect the upcoming cricketing summer, creating a massive programming hole.
While this would give the WBBL an opportunity to shine as it did last year by being a stand-alone competition, the cancelation could be extremely financially costly for Cricket Australia. This may accelerate the need for cuts including the WBBL season length.
On the other hand a non-postponed World Cup could create another problem. It could result in budgetary issues if the WBBL was kept as a standalone competition or at its current length. The full decision on the WBBL competition is therefore unlikely to come out until the World Cup is decided.
Several high profile players have come out against this possible curtailment of the season. The most notable are Australian Internationals Meg Lanning, Alyssa Healy and Sophie Molineux. When speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Meg Lanning didn't opt out the option of moving the season to overlap with the men's BBL to cut costs.
"We just want to play. We are willing to communicate and negotiate on what that looks like." Lanning stated. "We played a lot of double-headers in the early days of the WBBL but we moved away from that because I think it was ready to stand by itself.
"But, obviously, we are in a new situation now and we have to reassess and work out what the best thing is for for game and for the women's side of things as well. Everything is on the table and we just have to work out what is going to be the best result for everybody."
Alyssa Healy, who is also a board director with the Australian Cricketers Association, remarked that while some adjustments would be necessary due to financial constraints, cutting the schedule is not the answer.
When speaking on the Unplayable Podcast, Healy stated: "It does not sit great, we do not want to loose any cricket" referring to herself and fellow players. She went on to say "It would be a real shame. Especially, the WBBL is such a great tournament for us.
"You know it is the bulk amount of cricket that we get to play. We do not get to play a lot of 50-over cricket for our domestic competitions and that is something that us as a playing group have been pushing for the in the last few year to make sure that that WNCL competition is looked after.
"We do not want to loose any cricket. I do not feel that our domestic players play enough cricket as it is. So we will have to wait and see what decisions are made." She added "I know from a playing point of view, nobody wants to loose any cricket. We want to play as much as we possibly can.
"Knowing that there is a (Women's) World Cup, a 50-over (Women's) World Cup on the horizon in February (2021) we want to make sure that we are playing as much cricket as we can to gain some momentum leading into that. If that is domestically we want as much as we can."
Her young Australian teammate and fellow World Cup Winner Sophie Molineaux outlined the impact of cutting games to The West Australian. "You cut games and people aren't going to get that game experience. To improve and develop as sports people, you want to be out there in the thick of it.
"Being involved in the WBBL over the past five or six years, to see how far that's come over the time - we'd be pretty silly to take a step back from that and stop the momentum. But I have every confidence in the people that are making those decisions that they'll keep women's cricket and its best interests at heart."
While other women's leagues have shortened their seasons, the AFLW and Super W, those league's curtailment coincided with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WBBL|06 is not expected to be facing the same pandemic related issues later this year.
Already two other women's leagues, which also play later this year like the WBBL, have announced that they will host their 2020 competitions in full, even if it means playing without fans for part of the season.
The Suncorp Super Netball will be proceeding with a full 60 game season schedule. Its start date, August 1, 2020, is currently months earlier than the earliest projected WBBL start date. The Women's National Basketball League also announced that they will host their full 21 round tournament, with its opening weekend slated for November 20-21, 2020.
Both organizations outlined the importance of the domestic game to the continued progress of their respective sport. Both are also sports who do not have the financial backing or comparative popularity of cricket.
Therefore, other sports have already shown that a regular season is possible. Cricket Australia should take notice of these leagues when considering the fate of WBBL|06. They should also take note of the significant negatives a shortened season could produce.
Shortening the WBBL could squander some of the momentum women's cricket has created over the last few years. This momentum culminated with the national team winning the most recent Women's Twenty20 World Cup in front of 86,174 people at the MCG in February.
The shortened season and lower accessibility could also stifle the television audience, one that had an average audience of 191,000 viewers last year even though a number of matches appeared on Seven's secondary and not primary channel.
Moreover, shortening would reduce the current chances of players to gain experience and progress. It may even prohibit several elite rising young female cricketers from being able to gain entry into the top of the sport.
Lastly, shortening the WBBL would send a dangerous message about the importance of women's cricket. This at a time where many other, less affluent, authorities have been able to prioritize and schedule full tournaments.
Meg Lanning, Alyssa Healy and Sophie Molineux are right. Do not shorten the WBBL.