Clare Connor, the ECB's managing director of women's cricket who is set to assume office in October 2021 as the first female president of the 233-year-old Marylebone Cricket Club, offered a ringside view into women's cricket administration during an ICC "100% Cricket" virtual event. ESPNcricinfo highlights some key points made by the former England captain during the discussion that also featured India ODI captain Mithali Raj, cricketer-turned-broadcaster Ian Bishop, and moderator Lisa Sthalekar, the former Australia captain.
On changes in the women's game she's witnessed since entering cricket administration:
The shift's been enormous [at the ECB]. I've been working for the ECB for a decade now. There were no women on the board [when I started out]. It wasn't independent, and it was, therefore, by definition, self-interested. We now have 30% of our board members as female; I think we might be just over that now. We did have some ethnic diversity with Lord Kamlesh Patel but we need to be better in that space as do virtually all national governing body boards in this country.
Regardless of the actual diversity of the board, there's a deeper understanding of the role that women's cricket can play for the whole game in terms of relevance, sustainability, engaging families, and the fact that our sport is competing with so many other sports and lesser opportunities for families and children. It is understood and accepted that women's cricket has been the biggest growth area and there's still huge potential for growth. That evolving understanding of the role that women's cricket can play and why it matters has been great to witness.
The ICC - there's been a huge shift, but it's been slower than what I have witnessed in my own country and committees and boards here. By virtue of being the chair of the ICC Women's Committee, I sit on the chief executive's committee as well, and I think there's been a big shift there, probably led by James Sutherland before he left as the Cricket Australia chief executive officer.
A huge shift around the discussion of the women's game, and a deeper understanding of and commitment to investing in it, the way the ICC board is comprised. There are 18 members on that board, 14 Full Members, three Associate Members and one female independent director. Therefore, the discussions of those chairs who are on the board - they're all male and they are going to have the interests of their own organisations first and foremost. Therefore, getting independent, diverse debate and thinking and innovation around that table - whilst I can't say from first-hand experience because I haven't sat in there - is going to be difficult.
On potential innovations in the women's game to make it more popular:
The most important thing is to have a really good rationale for making a change - to the playing conditions or formats. We knew why we created the multi-fomat Ashes: it was to protect that one-off Test. There was so little Test-match cricket being played in the women's game but we wanted to protect it and create a narrative about the women's Ashes, and that was well-received by the media and fans.
We've got to stop this comparison between women's cricket not being as good as men's cricket, because of you're a six- or eight-year-old girl now and you're getting into cricket really young, you know you're on a pathway to playing women's cricket. If that's what she's aiming for, she's not making comparisons.
We'll be seeing women's cricket in the Commonwealth Games here in England for the first time [in Birmingham in 2022]. How do we use the opportunity to play in a multi-sport Games, with huge free-to-air coverage that we'll gain, and how do we use that reach and platform to drive women's and girls' cricket in this country but also cricket more widely? With that opportunity to play in a multi-sport Games comes the obvious conversation: if men's and women's cricket is ever going to be in the Olympics, would that be a T20, would that be a shorter format even than the T20 because of the number of games you'd have to play? I can't see a world where you've got men's and women's cricket in the Olympics with enough pitches and enough days to factor in all of the games you need, with T20, I think it's still too long. So if the ambition is to be there, how does cricket get there?
"We've identified women's cricket as a huge growth opportunity, so we can't now let this crisis narrow our ambition and lens because all of that remains true" Clare Connor
On contingency plans for England women's summer after the Covid-19 pandemic took hold:
It's been challenging. It hit us right at the start of the English summer or spring. But you keep some perspective on all of this: it is just cricket after all.
For the women's game it's been frustrating because we were due to host India and South Africa women in this summer and one by one they fell away. But we've been resolute; we knew the importance of that visibility - the Women's T20 World Cup on March 8 and that amazing day which was broadcast around the world, with 1.1 billion digital views, showing what an amazing product and appetite there is for international women's cricket. So we knew we had to get some international women's cricket on this summer and we're really thankful again to the West Indies women [for touring England].
On the road ahead for women's cricket in the Covid-19-affected world:
Ultimately it comes down to decision-making about investments, both in our own Member boards and at the ICC level. I would be really worried if there weren't right voices around the table having those debates about how we continue to carry on the momentum from March 8, and whatever comes over the next six months or two years, it's going to be a challenge.
There's huge uncertainty around schedules, and if the people around the table making decisions on investments and visibility of what's going to be shown, if there isn't that diversity to represent the women's game across all of those discussions, then that's concerning. We have to really look at it as an opportunity and think what kind of sport we want to be, how we can protect and drive this. You know, never let a crisis go waste.
We've identified women's cricket as a huge growth opportunity, so we can't now let this crisis narrow our ambition and lens because all of that remains true. That would be my one kind of plea, if you like, to those people sitting around those important decision-making tables: to remember that we have the sport here, it's growing in interest, popularity, credibility, entertainment and commercial value. We shouldn't forget that.