I challenged an unjust image of the ideal female cricketer. It was the right thing to do | Women’s cricket

WWhen I first started on the Australian team, we weren’t paid to play at all. Even having our flights, accommodation and uniforms was a huge win for some of my older teammates, like Belinda Clark, who had to pay their own way earlier in their careers to travel to overseas tours. When we started getting paid as cricketers, part of our contracts included work promoting the game, which we all loved to do.

One day the entire Australian squad received an email announcing that three players – Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning and Holly Ferling – had been awarded marketing contracts and congratulated them on this achievement. Eventually that list expanded to four players and Alyssa Healy joined the others. I was quite confused when I received the email as I hadn’t heard anything about the availability of these marketing contracts and I believe we were all working hard promoting the game.

I questioned Pat Howard, Cricket Australia’s high performance manager, about the process and how these contracts came about. Pat told me they had a tool they used to measure the marketability of different players in the game. They had used a market research firm to gauge people’s familiarity with players and their likes, and plotted the results on two axes. Those who performed well on both were awarded a marketing contract.

Some of the names they used were players, but there were also some former players, coaches and media personnel, trying to discover who would be the most sensible people to support as promoters of our sport. To reward them for their time and the use of their image, they would get an additional fee. The process and justification made sense to me, but in this list of players there were only a few women and a great long list of men – all currently contracted Australian players, as well as some players from the past. While I understood they were measuring marketability, the historic disadvantage of female cricketers means that we would not have been given the same opportunities to even be in the race as the men.

Finally, I was able to look at the data and I could see that it was true that I was fairly marketable myself. But there were only three, and eventually four, contracts for women, so I missed it. And yet Cricket Australia continued to put me forward as a kind of spokesperson for diversity and inclusion within the game, quite difficult and important work. The feeling that my efforts to promote the game deserved less of the respect of being paid for it was hard to bear.

The four women who are lucky enough to be paid for their work promoting the game are all incredibly valuable assets to our sport, and I don’t begrudge them any financial compensation at all. Unfortunately, after awarding these contracts to four traditionally attractive, heterosexual women, I was informed that Cricket Australia wanted to continue to steer the image of our women’s team in a certain direction. The strategy seemed to target the existing mostly male cricket fan base to try and persuade them to watch the women’s game, and to persuade mothers to enroll their daughters in cricket by showing the type of female cricket administrators that mothers thought would want their daughters.

Ellyse Perry at an Ashes training session earlier this month. Photo: Mark Brake/Getty Images

Right or wrong, it felt like I would have a hard time getting a contract if this was indeed the direction of the forces needed for our image. I was not the kind of person they wanted because as an outspoken lesbian I am not attractive to the male gaze. For me that was discrimination. I was the Australian vice-captain; I was the captain during important times for the team and I performed on the pitch. But it didn’t feel like I would be in the running to get a marketing contract. I wasn’t even in the same race. The sense of injustice gnawed at me – not just for myself, but for my teammates who may never be in the race, no matter how good they are, because they don’t fit what an ideal female athlete should look and represent. I wasn’t willing to watch and let that happen.

I called Pat Howard and questioned him about the situation and outlined the important promotional work I was doing for the organization for which I was not being reimbursed. Just before that call, I had been on the phone for another free consultation with Cricket Australia about a respect and responsibility policy they wanted to design. Hours of my time were taken on the phone, in workshops and as a public voice for Cricket Australia on all kinds of important topics.

I said to Pat, “I’m tired of this. It’s important work, but I put a lot of my time and emotional energy into it for free. I want you to understand how wonderful it is for me to see other athletes doing something as simple as appearing on a poster and getting paid for it. There is such a discrepancy that I struggle with here. I truly believe that all of us who represent Australia should be rewarded for our time and using our image to promote the game. We all need to be respected for what we do to move the game forward, not just a select few.”

Pat paused, then said, “Well, you don’t have to do any of that if you don’t want to.”

Frankly, that was not a satisfactory answer for me. It wasn’t something we talked about much within the team, but there was an undercurrent of unease in the group about certain players being chosen as competitive and the rest not. I especially felt that some players could have done great things to increase the appeal of the game. Jess Cameron was so extraordinarily talented and had given us multiple World Cup wins of his own accord. She was clearly one of our key players and so down to earth, but it felt like she was being tucked away because she wasn’t in the pin-up shape they were looking for.

Sarah Coyte played the match in a World Cup final, but it seemed like she didn’t fit the image they were looking for either – she has tattooed arms and is perhaps considered a bit rougher than the players who did. selected. I just felt like we weren’t taking advantage of some of the brilliantly diverse stories and experiences our players had. All the attention went to this one image and everyone else was asked to step into the shadows and focus on our duties on the pitch – neither seen nor heard.

I felt like the people who run our sport struggled to visualize a potential fan base that was outside of their own experiences. Since most sports executives were straight, middle-aged white males, there wasn’t much diversity of experience to look at things differently.

To me, this highlights why it is so important to have different perspectives in the direction of an organization’s leadership. When I realized all this, I was more confident than ever that speaking up was the right thing to do, even when—or especially when—people felt uncomfortable doing so.

This is an edited extract from Fair game by Alex Blackwell with Megan Maurice (Hachette Australia, $33) from January 26.

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