The ICC Women's T20 World Cup Trophy. © ICC

When the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020 announced its ambition to #FillTheMCG, they moved the goalposts into unknown territory. Since, the Local Organising Committee has had to chart out the path, building a roadmap for a place women’s cricket has never gone before.

Is there a fear of failure? What are the stepping stones? What’s the bigger picture? And what were they smoking when they dreamed this up? Women’s CricZone caught up with Nick Hockley, the CEO of the Local Organising Committee that is at the heart of this attempt, seeking answers to these questions.

Previously the Head of Commercial Projects at Cricket Australia, Hockley is a former chartered accountant turned sports event-er, with brands like PricewaterhouseCoopers, London Olympics 2012 and Cricket World Cup 2015 on his CV. But Women’s T20 World Cup 2020 could prove to be the most illustrious, especially if the tournament goes as envisioned. 

Excerpts: 

How did the idea of filling up the MCG arise?

The conversation started in 2016. We came and watched the 2016 World T20, the final at Eden Gardens. I’d never been to the Eden Gardens before, and it was an incredible ground and fantastic game of cricket. There were two to three hundred people at the ground at the beginning of the women’s final, maybe a couple of thousand at the end. We saw that and thought, certainly the popularity of women’s sport was growing globally. The 2015 FIFA World Cup was the biggest yet, Australia hosted the Netball World Cup in 2015. The WBBL had just started. So we knew there was kind of a growth trajectory. 

So the first important decision was rather than play the tournaments together at the same time, we play them as two standalone events. In 2014 when Australia were awarded the T20 World Cup, it (the 2020 edition) was due to be played both in October-November. So we made that decision in late 2016, allowing both women and men to play the matches in prime-time, under lights and in the right size stadiums. 

Wasn’t that decision made for the 2018 World T20?

The World T20 in West Indies was standalone really by virtue of the fact that there wasn’t a men’s World T20 for four years. Certainly this is the first time (there is a) standalone (tournament) in the same country in the same year.

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Once we’d made that decision, the next question is where do you play the matches. We knew, typically, women’s international matches have been played in what we call more boutique grounds. We wanted to move from the boutique ground to the mid-level ground. As an example playing Australia against India next Friday (February 21) at Sydney Showground.

Really if you think how change happens in any sphere – I don’t know if you’ve read or subscribed to Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping point. A World Cup doesn’t really come around very often, how are we going to maximise this opportunity?

 The T20 in 2020, it’s all quite serendipitous. Quite early on we knew that the final had to be scheduled on a Sunday. It just so happens that International Women’s Day is on a Sunday. All the stars started to align.

We spoke to each of the different cities and venues and what their appetite was for hosting matches. Melbourne is, kind of, the self-proclaimed sporting capital of the world. They have an amazing attendance culture. And they very passionately felt that they wanted to be the leader in gender equality and take it to the next level.

Is there pressure? Or what happens if you fail?

We’d rather try and find out than be sitting here thinking ‘Gosh if only we’d tried’. So that’s the overriding philosophy. We don’t want to have any regrets. One thing we can safely say is we have given both events equal billing. We have really done everything we can to make this a major world event, whether it’s the entertainment, the schools program, the trophy tour. 

The narrative has gone from ‘can we do it?’; now it’s shifted. You put yourself in the shoes of Harmanpreet (Kaur) or Meg Lanning, Sophie Devine. If the men were playing at the biggest cricket ground on the biggest stage, then if you believe in equality as a principle it’s only right that the women should be.

Filling a stadium like that means bums on seats. What’s been happening at the grassroots to promote that?

We’re running a national schools program, educating schools through cricket. We have a unit this term which is ‘Inspiring Women and Girls’, where little girls and boys study Belinda Clark, Mithali Raj, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, and other leading women through history, business, and culture.

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We’re also trying to encourage people who have never been to a cricket match before. We’ve invested heavily in entertainment; we’re thrilled that Katy Perry is coming to perform in the final. More broadly, talking to people outside of cricket and entertainment but those with a social conscience who want to see a more equal society. Part of the opportunity, on the day women are celebrated all around the world, is as the sun comes up over New Zealand, then Australia, the world wakes up to visions of a full stadium, 90k people watching the best in the world.  I’ve got two girls who are eight and four. If you’re a little girl, or boy, it sends a powerful message to the younger generation.

Part II to follow…

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