Which way will the England and Wales Cricket Board fall on fair sport for women and girls?
The Women’s Ashes are due to start on 22nd June 2023 kicking off at Trent Bridge with a five-day Test Match. The BBC have reported that ticket sales have broken records with more people wanting to see England play Australia in the multi-format series than for all of England’s games played in 2022.
This is not the only first. All games are to be played at Test match grounds for the first time, and 2023 is the first year that the Women’s Ashes matches are being played alongside the men’s on a joint platform with no fixture clashes. Allowing the public the chance to fill large grounds to see the women’s game has clearly had a positive impact on ticket sales.
So far, it’s looking good for women’s cricket which has increased in popularity over the last few years.
However, there remains a thorn in the side of the women’s game in the form of the ‘England and Wales Cricket Board Policy (ECB) on Trans People Playing Cricket’. Published in 2022, this guidance states that:
“For any recreational Club which plays in any cricket competition, league or match which is governed by the ECB, the eligibility of a trans person is determined as follows:
11.1 any trans person may compete in any mixed gender competition, league or match in the gender with which they identify;
11.2 a trans man may compete in any open competition, league or match and should be accepted in the gender with which they identify, but may not compete in any female only competition, league or match;
11.3 a trans woman may compete in any open competition, league or match or any female only competition, league or match and should be accepted in the gender with which they identify”.
Eligibility of a ‘trans woman’ to play in a female-only competition is decided on a case-by-case basis and requires written clearance from an ECB panel. The ECB describe this as a ‘social’ model as opposed to a ‘medical’ model.
This guidance has the potential to harm the women’s game through an opaque, unscientific decision-making process, and a level of hypocrisy that rules out females who are assumed to be taking testosterone (trans men) who are banned from the women’s game, but not men.
Were the stakeholders (women cricketers) consulted on this policy?
Two big stories have hit the headlines in the last few years causing Women’s Rights campaigners and politicians to speak out against policies allowing men into women’s cricket as unsafe and unfair.
In 2019, 6ft+ tall male Maxine Blythin outperformed the women in the Kent team batting an average score of 124 and hitting four centuries in his debut season, earning him the accolade ‘Kent Women’s Club Player of the Year’. Blythin claimed to have a medical condition that results in low testosterone production and that he never “..went through any form of male puberty”.
Testosterone levels are not required to be at any particular level, though, and therefore Blythin is not prevented from playing in the women’s team, so it is a moot point. The fundamental principal remains that Blythin is genetically male. He decided to ‘transition’ and is now identifying as transgender.
Blythin is currently playing for Wiltshire Women’s 1st XI where he scored a top performing 72 not out in the first match of the 2023 season. Interesting to note in this context, that the boundaries are closer to the wickets in the women’s game compared to the men’s game, and the hard ball that women use is also smaller.
Winning the award of Women’s Club Player of the Year brought Blythin to the attention of the media and shocked many including Fair Play for Women. Dr Nicola Williams, director of the group, said:
“Female-only teams are vital to uphold fair competition for women in cricket. Opening up the women's game to cross-dressing males who do nothing more than 'identify as a woman' shows utter contempt for the women's game. The ECB say they are proud of their 'inclusive policy' when in reality this policy will exclude women from their own game.”
Interestingly, the ECB have recently courted media controversy on their culture of ‘inclusivity’.
Internal guidance relating to ‘Inclusive language’ promotes ‘The Genderbread Person’, frequently denounced among many safeguarding, women’s rights and LGB organisations as unscientific and based on an ideological belief system.
The ECB have defended using the ‘Genderbread model’ in their inclusive language guidance saying:
“It is widely accepted that inclusive language can help to promote and embed equity, diversity and inclusion and we believe the more we practice empathy, consider the impact of the words, and phrases we use, the better our sport will be for all.”
A fine example of the creep of gender identity ideology into an organisation through the manipulation of language and culture. Sport is not however an ideological enterprise; it is played by bodies and is sex segregated due to objective differences in biology.
The second, and perhaps more disturbing episode of male intrusion into women’s cricket
The second, and perhaps more disturbing episode of male intrusion into women’s cricket is the recently publicised story of a man identifying as a ‘transgender women’ who has been allowed to play club cricket in a league of women and girls aged as young as 12. One of the coaches wrote to the ECB on behalf of many concerned parents and other coaches stating that:
“My fellow coaches and I are already aware of parents who will not allow their daughters to play in the matches this player is involved in for the forthcoming season, primarily due to how hard this player hits the ball and we are concerned this will not only prevent clubs putting teams out but also discourage new players from joining hard ball teams.”
“This is a development league for women & girls’ cricket. With our consent as parents we allow our daughters to play good quality cricket, with differing abilities. This is often, and has been the case with both my daughters, a fantastic steppingstone into the structured way of playing cricket with other girls, mums and women. It is therefore of concern that they have been involved in a match against a team with a transitioned man. As father to these girls (aged 14 & 16) I find that unacceptable, uncomfortable and dangerous, both morally and physically.” https://fairplayforwomen.com/transgender-inclusion-is-already-harming-uk-females-in-sport/
Priti Patel, former Home Secretary and a life member of Marylebone Cricket Club, described the situation as “shameful”, and that “The safety of women and girls should NEVER be compromised”.
Baroness Jacqueline Foster, the Conservatives’ former deputy leader in the European Parliament, also commented, “Astonishing. That the ECB could even think there are no risks is beyond me.”
Professor David Paton of Nottingham University, who has written widely on the economics of cricket and served as an advisor to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, pleaded:
“Please ECB, sort this out urgently. When I was helping in junior cricket, girls up to two years older could play in an open age-group team. For obvious reasons, boys could not play in girls’ teams.”
Professor Ross Tucker, the South African sports scientist involved in helping World Rugby develop a fair transgender policy, believes the ECB’s position contravenes safeguarding boundaries:
“Once you convince yourself that one sporting boundary can be crossed, why not others?
If you allow males into women’s sport, then adults into kids’ sport is similar, conceptually, and so is adult males into girls’ sport. You get more of what you permit.”
In response to this incident, the ECB said they are currently reviewing their policy on transgender players. A spokesperson said:
"Transgender participation is a complex area. In recreational cricket, the eligibility of players is based on their own self-identified gender, with no medical requirements.”
"However, in light of guidance from the UK Sports Council's Equality Group (SCEG), we are currently reviewing. We will continue to consult with Sport England and other independent experts and will communicate any changes once this work is complete."
The ECB and the cricketing world are eagerly awaiting the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) to publish its recommendations on ‘issues of diversity, inclusion and equity in cricket, at all levels and in all roles’. England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) - The Official Website of the ECB
The review was initiated in March 2021 and should have reported its findings last summer (2022) but nothing has been published at the time of writing this (June 2023) and so the current transgender policy remains in place putting women and girls at a disadvantage in the sport of cricket.
Hopefully the ECB will take note of the regret felt by prominent Australian transgender writer, commentator and army officer, Cate McGregor, who after playing first-grade cricket on a woman’s team at age 63, said that it is was “a little unfair” to compete against women.
“I've seen it from both sides, I did play some female sport for a time in Services Cricket,”
“With hindsight, I don't think it was fair for me to embark on that course,” McGregor said.