I can recall the moment that my little sister told me that she was going to play her first game of cricket. She wanted to be just like her big brother. Whilst a little apprehensive at first, once I saw how much she loved it, combined with just how good she was, I fully supported her choice to play, as did the rest of my family. Yes, it meant she was playing against the boys, but she was good; better than a lot of the boys she was playing with, in fact.
The novelty of having a girl in the team quickly wore off, with the common interest of the great game of cricket being enough for her team members to ‘have her back’. Any comments from opposition players regarding their playing against a girl were quickly shot down by a stern retort from her team members. She was one of them, part of their team, a highly valued member of that team.
Her coaches treated her like they would any other player in the team, and she expected nothing less. There was never even a hint that she was unsafe, or going to be hurt by playing in a “boys” team. The acceptance by her teammates was refreshing and after representing her state at each underage level, as well as then going on to playing for the Queensland Fire for several seasons, she had clearly become the best cricketer in my family. This was a badge of honour that I happily passed on to my little sister, proud of what she had achieved. Playing Indoor Cricket for Australia and winning a World Cup in England was something that most would not have thought possible when she took the field in her first “boys” game way back when. Good on you sis! What an amazing series of experiences you have had because you were able to give cricket a go….with the boys.
Young girls should be encouraged to break down the barriers of what has “always been done” and encouraged to blaze new trails in whatever field they choose, especially in sport. They should not be held back by red tape and do-gooders who try and poo-poo their endeavours under the guise of protecting them from getting hurt.
Their coaches, teachers and parents should be trusted in their advocating for that girl’s participation in sport, and their positions to make those decisions respected, always. This process should not be undermined by someone who is tasked as a decision maker, but who does not know the finer details. If the people that know the girls best say that they are up to it, then they are up to it – end of discussion. These people who know what they are talking about would not put these girls in a position that they cannot handle themselves, or where a duty of care is not maintained.
Gone are the days where women playing sport was a novelty, a sideshow, not taken seriously by the vast majority of people. Women are as skilled, if not more skilled than their male counterparts in a lot of sports and in the absence of a competition where they can play exclusively with competitors of their same sex, they simply must be given the opportunity to play with the boys. To prevent them even the opportunity to do so is a counterproductive disgrace that will do far more harm than the harm that is supposed to be being prevented by blocking them from playing that sport in the first place.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day for 2020, remember how far we have come in the area of Women in Sport, but also remember how far we have to go when instances arise where people are refused permission to participate in the sport they love purely because they are not male. Remember the women who have gone before them, blazing that trail that the women of today so ably walk.
Success in any sport begins at the grass roots level. Is it simply wrong to prevent girls from playing sport at those grass root junior levels because they are girls and might get hurt. In cricket, the boys who are less able that others are just as likely to get hurt as the girls, so come up with some other reason for the girls not to play in the same team – you won’t find one that is fair dinkum. Cricket is a game that uses a hard leather ball as a missile, a missile that is designed to be struck, caught and thrown and reasonable speed. Injuries will happen, and they do, because it’s cricket, not because there is a girl playing in a ‘boys’ team.
Imagine how many of our great female sportspeople would not have become household names if this exclusionary, cotton-wool and old-fashioned approach was adopted across all junior sport. Decision makers need to trust the judgements and selections of the people who know these girls best and just stay out of it.
This sort of rubbish is still happening in 2020 and I have written what I have written here today because it happened to someone under my guidance today, and I am far from happy about it. It was a slap in the face for me as a coach and teacher, and it was an embarrassment to an organisation that purports to champion inclusivity and opportunities for all.
Perhaps I should have actively discouraged my little sister and stopped her from playing a “male” sport like cricket. At least then I could hold my head high as being the best cricketer in my family…Nope, I wouldn’t want to change a thing.