Mark Reason: Our love of money is the reason the White Ferns failed to win the World Cup

Mark Reason is a sports columnist for Stuff

OPINION: It’s been almost a quarter of a century since New Zealand won the Women’s Cricket World Cup, but that span looks like a millisecond compared to their chances of ever doing so again in the future. New Zealand’s women cricketers will become the equivalent of Samoa’s male rugby players, an appendage to a game where success is measured by wealth.

So be careful what you wish for. Equality is a beautiful dream, but it rarely comes true in the capitalist sports world. The professionalism in women’s cricket will create a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, just like in men’s rugby.

White Ferns captain Sophie Devine is sent to the Basin Reserve from Australia.

Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

White Ferns captain Sophie Devine is sent to the Basin Reserve from Australia.

Australia, England and India are getting stronger and New Zealand will disappear as a competitive power because they can no longer keep up financially. While the game remained semi-amateur, New Zealand was able to play on a nearly level playing field. But since the game turned professional in 2014, the slope at the Kiwi end of the field has only gotten steeper.

* The White Ferns’ top batting performance let them down at the Women’s Cricket World Cup
* White Ferns was injured in the dramatic loss to England at the Women’s Cricket World Cup
* White Ferns devastated by another narrow World Cup defeat while England survive
* Leaving White Ferns to lick and nurse wounds as they await the World Cup death knell

At the moment Australia’s top women cricketers earn around NZ$200,000 a year and this number is expected to rise significantly as the hierarchy seeks to establish parity with men. Cricket Australia can also afford to put significant resources into the team. The women have top-class coaches and they develop their techniques on first-class artificial grass pitches and then on high-quality grass pitches.

And already there is a huge gap in the standards. Since the last World Cup, Australia (ahead of Tuesday’s game against South Africa) have once failed to complete their 50 overs. New Zealand has failed to beat their 50 overs 23 times. Now the occasional moon falls and a Leicester City wins the Premiership, but it will take a miracle of this magnitude for New Zealand to win another ICC Women’s World Cup.

England have just poured NZ$38 million into women’s football. The only chance the New Zealand players will get such a stroke of luck is if another Allen Stanford comes along and robs the banks. The current New Zealand player pool is $4.143 million over three years. That is due to be renegotiated in July, but by no means will it come close to Australia, England or even India, whose women cricketers acknowledge they are heavily subsidized by the obscene wealth of the men’s game.

Amelia Kerr (centre) and teammates celebrate South Africa's Lizelle Lee's run in Hamilton.

Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

Amelia Kerr (centre) and teammates celebrate South Africa’s Lizelle Lee’s run in Hamilton.

Heath Mills, chief executive of the New Zealand Cricket Players Association, said: “Clearly we need to grow women’s football and work with New Zealand Cricket to increase the overall rewards package for women’s cricket.”

It’s a nice feeling, but cricket in this country is on its knees as attendance has halved in recent years. Where will the money come from? And indeed, why should the money be found when society has causes far more needy than a group of athletes playing a game they love, as men and women did hundreds of years before them?

There is no equality of masses in men’s cricket. In men’s cricket there is no equality in the standards of the game. In men’s cricket there is no equality in the number of participants. There is no equality in TV revenue, advertising or sponsorship with men’s cricket. So it seems to me that we’re turning this on its head, just like rugby.

This love of money is at the root of the evil in the game. It will create a big gap, just like in society. The White Ferns entered the Cricket World Cup with the TV advertising slogan ‘Nothing Will Stop Us’. Unfortunately, Australia, the West Indies, South Africa and England have stopped them so far. They have become the game’s poor relatives.

If you ask around, you’ll find that it’s not just about the money, although it always seems to be lurking in the background. When it comes to coaching, women never get the crème de la crème unless by accident, as in the case of Gary Stead. They usually get the discards or the second judges.

In rugby, of course, it’s the same picture. You don’t hear Dave Rennie or Joe Schmidt or Razor Robertson being touted as the coach for the Black Ferns. In fact, there are probably 25 of the best male coaches in New Zealand who are firmly entrenched in men’s football.

The situation is not dissimilar in women’s cricket, so stories of disharmony in the dressing room are all too often heard. They hear the women sitting there being told what to do. Too many of them are afraid to speak up. Too many of the youth players go on tour and never get a game or are left in the nets and shot at by a bunch of local guys instead of their teammates.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s hard to see too bright a future for women’s cricket in this country under the current structure. The reality is that Samoa’s fate in the Men’s Rugby World Cup is far more likely to be followed.

Samoa were not invited to the first tournament in 1987, but they reached the quarterfinals in both 1991 and 1995. In fact, one Pacific island nation reached the quarter-finals in each of the first three tournaments, along with Canada in 1991. And then in 1995, rugby turned professional.

Since that fateful day, only Fiji from the Pacific countries has reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup, and that was in 2007. The only other ‘minor’ nation to have succeeded since then is Japan. And of course Japan has money, the money to get coaches like Jamie Joseph, Tony Brown, Scott Hansen, Wayne Smith and the others.

Meanwhile, Samoa sits largely alone and abandoned by the game. It cannot afford professionalism and so its best players go abroad. Hopefully one day another golden generation will come and stay together long enough for a miracle to happen. But it will take a miracle, just like New Zealand women’s cricket, to win another World Cup in the era of professionalism.

But look on the bright side. Kiwis are pretty good at working wonders. Check out Kane Williamson and his men. Check out the yachties. Maybe one day New Zealand cricketers will do the impossible, whatever the odds.

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