A report by Isabelle Westbury for London’s Telegraph.
This is a golden summer of women’s sport for the Caribbean. The West Indies are in England taking on cricket’s reigning World Champions. Jamaica’s football team, the Reggae Girlz, have just kicked off their inaugural World Cup campaign, the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the tournament. And the country’s netball team, the Sunshine Girls, will embark on their own hunt for silverware once the World Cup gets underway in Liverpool next month.
But Stafanie Taylor, the West Indies cricket captain, is not optimistic about the opportunities for women’s sport in the region. “I’m not,” asserts Jamaica-born Taylor, “I’m not,” recalling a lack of support for the Reggae Girlz at the start of her country’s campaign to qualify for the 2019 football World Cup.
“There was no media, no support and no structure for female development. But now that the Reggae Girlz have created history [by qualifying], and now that they are in a World Cup, everyone feels like they need to be on the bandwagon. But there was no support at the start.”
As a talented young sportswoman, Taylor had to decide between cricket and football, and continues to follow the latter closely. So too netball, in which Jamaica are ranked third in the world. “It is sad,” reflects Taylor. “Because when you look at the Sunshine Girls, they have been doing it around the world for years.
“But they have to go out looking for donations because they don’t have any money. When you go to a major tournament and you can’t get sponsors in your own country, that’s really sad. That shows the lack of support for female sport. There is none. No support, none at all.”
As sponsorship and viewing figures for the football World Cup continue to break new barriers, is there cause for optimism in cricket? “Cricket might change,” considers Taylor. “Because we have the International Cricket Council [imposing minimum global standards and funding]. Cricket might change in that regard.
“But for football I’m not sure that there are going to be any changes [domestically] unless the Reggae Girlz go on and win the World Cup. The same for the netball girls as well.” Ranked 53rd globally and competing in a 24-team World Cup, this seems unlikely for the island’s footballers. For its netball team, which whitewashed the England Roses in last October’s three-match bilateral series, this is a more realistic prospect. Even then, however, this optimism is tempered.
Three years ago the West Indies beat the all-conquering Australian team to lift the World Twenty20 title in front of 66,000 spectators in India. When the men won their version at the same venue a few hours later, the two teams celebrated as one, dancing and hugging each other in a spontaneous moment of integrated euphoria.
To be seen succeeding on the same stage, with such visible support from the men’s side, made many of us presume that this would change things back in the Caribbean too. But with the men’s team collectively taking home $100,000 USD – more than 16 times over what the women won, with each male cricketer winning the equivalent of the entire women’s team prize money – there is a long way to go before the two games are equal.
“Not how I would like,” sighs Taylor. “I would have liked to have seen it improve things. We won the T20 but nothing has really improved. I think that that is quite bad.
“I feel like the West Indies Cricket Board could do a bit more. With all this interest in women’s cricket – get the ball rolling and improving our game.”
Last year the side cruised through the group stages of the World T20 undefeated, including victory over England, doing so in front of heaving Saint Lucian crowds. At a time when enthusiasm for the underperforming West Indies’ men was at a low ebb, it felt as if it was the women who might restore the islands’ proud and vigorous enthusiasm for cricket, which was once so prevalent. Everybody likes to be associated with a popular, and winning, team, after all.
“You would think so, one would think so,” muses the West Indian all-rounder Shakera Selman, who made her debut more than a decade ago. “But I am not so sure.
“I don’t know whether it is a problem for just cricket, in terms of companies not wanting to work with the West Indies, or if it is just in sport in general. I am yet to find what the exact reason is but I’m still not very sure about the funding that we are going to get in the upcoming years.
“The women still struggle to have a separate sponsor,” explains Shakera who, although contracted by the West Indies, works part-time as a coach. “Of course we need that for [the West Indies cricket team] to go a long way. We really need sponsorship and I am not very optimistic. Not that really now, it will take a while.”
While England and Australia dominate the narrative around the growth of women’s cricket – two leading nations in attitudes, investment and infrastructure – the global game cannot afford to develop into a two horse race. The West Indies, so far on the receiving end of two ODI thrashings by a slick and professional England unit, look miles behind on the field. Off the field, however, the gulf is even greater and without something radical happening, across all sports, it doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.