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While the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) shakes its predominantly men-only Indian Premier League (IPL) money tree, the world’s first privately funded tournament in the history of women’s cricket opened in Dubai on May 1.

Entitled the SDG FairBreak Invitational 2022 Tournament, it is sanctioned by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Six teams consisting of 90 players from 35 countries will compete across 19 matches until the Final on May 15. The inaugural tournament, organized by Cricket Hong Kong, was due to be held there, but the location had to be moved owing to COVID-19 restrictions. 

The players are from a mixture of Full Member and Associate Member countries. There was no players’ auction. Instead, an organizing committee invited cricketers and then allocated them to one of the six teams.

This provides a welcome opportunity for associate players to play against and alongside some of the world’s best female cricketers. It also enables players from Full Member countries to gain an understanding of the challenges faced by associate players, as well as appreciating their skill sets.

Most national cricket boards have been delighted to allow their players to take part. Cricket South Africa’s CEO regarded the involvement of six players as “another sign that South African women’s cricket is a force to be reckoned with,” while four players from the US women’s national team will participate. Five English contracted players were invited to play and, despite the tournament clashing with the start of a domestic cup competition, three of them will be playing in Dubai.

Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, there will be no Afghan players featuring in the tournament, nor any Indian players. The BCCI did not grant any No Objection Certificates, which players are required to have from their national board in order to participate in a domestic league in another country. The cited reason was that the Senior Women’s domestic T20 Trophy did not end until May 4. Since the opening match of the FairBreak tournament is not until that day, it is hard to resist the feeling that the invited Indian players have not had a fair break.

Furthermore, there is no clash with the BCCI’s IPL women’s sideshow, a three-team T20 Challenge, set for its fourth edition between May 24 and 28. Pressure to grow this event has met with stonewalling by the BCCI, which judges that there is not enough depth in the women’s game in India to justify further investment at this stage. Others in Indian cricket do not share this view.

The lukewarm attitude of the BCCI does provide the opportunity for others to take the initiative. Prior to standing down as chair of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Ramiz Raja was promoting the idea of a Pakistan Women’s T20 Super League. The introduction of the Hundred in England in 2021 notably enhanced opportunities for women, while the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia has completed seven editions.

Earlier than that, in 2013, a few individuals formed a Women’s International Cricket League (WICL). Its initial aim was to provide more opportunities and improved remuneration for women cricketers by attracting the world’s best players in similar fashion to the IPL for men. This proposal met with no approval from either Cricket Australia or the England and Wales Cricket Board and was not endorsed by the ICC. Instead, they emphasized that they each were enacting plans to professionalize and develop women’s cricket.

Over the last seven years, cricket’s authorities would argue, no doubt, that a structured set of competitions and progression pathways have been implemented. Yet, a gender remuneration gap remains. Rebuttal of the WICL’s proposals by cricket’s establishment caused its founders to re-think and reset. The WICL concept was dropped and out of this impasse a vision was developed whereby people have fair and equal access to succeed in their chosen endeavor, independent of gender or geographical location. Under the FairBreak concept, cricket is the primary vehicle for pursuing the objective of equality on a global scale.

FairBreak has organized individual matches in which women cricketers from both Full Member and Associate Member countries have been brought together. Prior to the pandemic, a four-match tour of England took place in 2019, while annual fixtures had been established at the Sir Paul Getty ground at Wormsley in England and at the Sir Donald Bradman ground at Bowral in Australia. The latter match was claimed to be the first ever women’s T20 match to be screened live worldwide. Resumption of these fixtures is set for 2022.

Comprehensive live coverage of the SDG FairBreak Invitational 2022 to 142 countries is in place through 14 selected broadcast partners. A combination of traditional TV broadcasters, new over-the-top media sources and digital-only platforms will maximize distribution and the availability of content to fans of all ages. In the host territory of the UAE, coverage will be secured via Etisalat who will broadcast every match live via eLife and STARZ Play. Spectators can also attend the tournament live at Dubai International Stadium.

In late March 2022, the SDG Impact Fund was announced as the title sponsor for the tournament. The Fund focuses on regenerative philanthropic impact in line with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The fund is US-based and is a good strategic fit with both FairBreak’s aims and current efforts to grow the game in the US for both men and women. Healthcare company Gencor will continue as lead sponsor.

The 2022 tournament represents an important milestone for both FairBreak’s growth and its efforts to generate more funding, more expertise and more opportunities for women to play cricket. Its focus on equality in sport provides a different angle on the development of women’s cricket by integrating players from ICC Full Member and emerging countries. It seems that it is finding a way to co-exist alongside the institutional bodies vested with cricket’s governance.

All of them ought to share a common goal of expanding women’s cricket on an equal footing.

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