Clare Connor. © Getty Images

Clare Connor, England and Wales Cricket Board’s managing director of women’s cricket, has stated that she believes men’s cricket may have to take precedence over the women’s game this year in order to protect the future of women’s cricket in the country. However, Connor did reiterate the ECB’s commitment to the women’s game, mentioning a plan to set up a retainer system for those outside the centrally contracted list.

Earlier this week, Tom Harrison, ECB Chief Executive, told the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s select committee, that regardless of whether any cricket were to be played this season, the board would suffer at least a 100 million pound loss because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In case no cricket is played through the English summer, that loss would then increase to 380 million pounds, he explained.

In an attempt to reduce these losses, Connor admitted that if matches were to take place ‘behind closed doors’, it would be important to prioritise the more lucrative men’s international matches.

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“If the international women’s schedule can’t be fulfilled in full but a large amount of the international men’s program can this summer, which is going to reduce that 380 million hole, we have to be realistic about that,” Connor said. “We’ve got these long-term ambitions for the game that extend beyond this summer and trying to protect as much investment as possible over the next five years, that is largely going to come down to how much international men’s cricket can be staged.”

“I’m realistic about that, that’s not to say we won’t be fighting hard to play our international schedule against India and South Africa as best we can. But we’re only going to have a few venues, if any, in operation and if that ends up being two bio-secure environments or three, there’s only a certain number of days to try to cram everything into.”

Originally, England were scheduled to host India in July, which was to be followed by a series against South Africa in September. While neither series has been officially cancelled, it is likely the ECB will try to rearrange or reschedule these matches. They are currently in talks with the Board of Control for Cricket in India about the same. However, a decision will soon have to be made about whether it is feasible for these matches to go ahead at all.

While admitting that it would be “enormously disappointing” if no women’s international matches were held this summer, Connor added that it was more important “for the whole game to survive.”

“We have to communicate really well and honestly about what we are doing and why we are doing it,” she said. “I don’t think you can argue with the rationale and  in order for the whole game to survive, the financial necessity rests upon many of those international men’s matches being fulfilled.”

Late last year, the ECB announced a 20-million action plan with an aim to further develop women’s and girls’ cricket. Where Connor reiterated the ECB’s commitment to making cricket a gender-balanced game, Harrison has so far refused to set aside that amount in light of the impacts of the pandemic. However, Connor did reiterate the ECB’s commitment to the women’s game.

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“There is no part of the ECB that has been afforded ring-fenced funding, absolutely no part,” Connor said. “We can’t give that guarantee of ring-fencing but what we can give is a guarantee that that vision for the game remains unchanged. All of the principles that led to the investment in the women’s and girl’s game about growth potential, having a more gender-balanced sport, giving the girls the opportunity to get on a pathway and to earn a living from the game remains unchanged.”

“The women’s and girls’ game, we know it can achieve all of our growth ambitions as a sport and when we come out of this we are clear about the sport we want to be and that is a sport for everyone. If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s shown us about the need for a more equal society and so the commitment to making the game better for women and girls is very steadfast.”

England. © Getty Images

England’s 17 centrally contracted players have agreed to take a 10% pay cut. © Getty Images

ECB have 17 centrally contracted players, all of whom have agreed to a 10% salary cut at the moment. They though, continue to enjoy the security provided by their ECB deal. It is the other domestic players who are set to suffer.

According to the action plan, 40 players were to receive full-time contracts from May 1, but that has unfortunately been put on hold at the moment. The postponement of the launch of The Hundred to 2021 has further dented the earning opportunities for the players outside the centrally contracted list. This has led to a fear that there could be a potential exodus of players due to the financial crunch, but Connor reiterated that the board was searching for a way to “show those players that we care.”

“We are still hopeful of awarding those 40 contracts this year,” Connor said. “It won’t obviously be on 1 May because that would be completely out of kilter with what the rest of the world is going through and with most of our cohort of men’s domestic players on furlough. That would not be an appropriate move at all. But we are hopeful of being able to award those contracts later on in the year.”

“What we are doing is we are looking at, in the interim, how we can show those players that we care. And that they are still very important and value and motivated. We want to keep them motivated and we don’t want to lose them to other career opportunities that might present themselves.”

“We are looking to how we might set-up some kind of retainer system in the meantime. We are working through the details of that at the moment. Obviously the money is there to be able to do that and it would be a lower financial package that a full-time salary amount. But I think it’s really important to us that those players know we are still behind them.”

In the midst of all the negativity, Connor did point to a small ray of sunshine – confirming that the eight new Centres of Excellence had been set up with Directors appointed for each. This now gives players an opportunity to be involved in both one-day and T20 cricket for their region in addition to The Hundred competition.