Cricket & a cheating scandal: Why women in sport deserve the airtime

Cricket, a cheating scandal & woeful role models: Why women in sport deserve the airtime

A confession. Until Sunday morning I had only been peripherally, at best, aware of the cricket test matches that have been taking place in South Africa in recent weeks.

The Australian team’s unfathomable decision to engage in a spot of pre-meditated ball-tampering changed that. I woke to the quite astonishing news that the captain, Steve Smith, had publicly admitted that the leadership group had hatched a plan to tamper with the ball on the third day of the test with a ‘rookie’, Cameron Bancroft, charged with carrying it out.

Unsurprisingly this bombshell thrust cricket firmly into the spotlight even for non-Cricket aficionados and I suspect like many others, I spent a good deal of Sunday reading about, watching, listening and even discussing the cheating scandal.

What were they thinking?

It has been described as disgraceful, shameful, the darkest day in Australia’s sporting history. It raises very serious questions of integrity and leadership and brings the privilege of representing the country firmly into view.

The men in question are paid handsomely for their skills: playing cricket for Australia is a lucrative pursuit. These men are admired and looked up to by hundreds and thousands of Australians – young and old – who either covet the honour of wearing the baggy greens themselves or simply revel in watching the game. They are ambassadors for the sport and the nation.

In deciding to meddle with the ball, in a total disregard for the rules, these men have shown themselves to be entirely unworthy of the acclaim.

It is hard to imagine many other settings where breaching the rules so flagrantly wouldn’t result in severe retribution. It is also hard not to contemplate, at this point,  the vastly different worlds that male and female athletes still inhabit.

In August last year Cricket Australia reached a historic agreement with the Australian Cricketers’ Association following months of bitter negotiations. It amounted to the biggest pay increase for women in Australia’s sporting history with female player payments increasing from $7.5 million to $55.2 million.

Whereas members of the Australian’s women’s team previously had a minimum retainer of $40,000, this will increase 119% to $87,609 in five years. Average salaries are expected to increase to $179,000, a $100,000 rise. These were welcome and significant adjustments and make female cricketers among the best paid female athletes in Australia.

But when you consider Australian male players earn a retainer between $200,000 and $300,000 per annum (and some upwards of $900,000) it is evident the disparity remains stark. It’s unpalatable at the best of times, particularly given the growing success and appeal of women’s sports, but when the leaders of the male group stoop to cheating? It’s utterly abysmal.

The reality for many female athletes is that they have to work to support themselves playing sport.

A recent Australian Story covered the long hard road to fame for the Matilda’s and made perfectly clear that several cohorts of female footballers have had to fight tooth and nail to achieve success and recognition. Despite this they remain vastly underpaid compared to their male counterparts.

It is unfair to tar all male cricketers with the same brush but the display on the weekend from Australia’s current test team make it clear: they are not aware of the immense privileges they enjoy.

In addition to being remunerated better (by many many multiples), men also get the lion’s share of the sponsorship dollars, dominate media coverage and get the best time slots for maximum exposure. When they repay this with total disregard for the rules it is time to consider whether they are worth it.

Sporting bodies and sponsors ought to consider other subjects who, at the very least, deserve the same opportunity to prove they are worthy. Female athletes behaving badly isn’t a story we’re accustomed to. Isn’t it time they dominate the airtime?

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