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Women don't have to choose: Sutherland

23 August 2016
Perry Cameron

CA boss buoyed by increase in female participation, says scope remains for women to play two sports

Of all the numbers that emerged from the release of the National Cricket Census on Tuesday, one figure was particularly pleasing for Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland.

Quick Single: Cricket becomes Australia's No.1 sport

The nine percent growth in female participation to a record number of almost 315,000, which translates to nearly a quarter of all cricketers in Australia, was validation for CA's increased emphasis on the women's game in recent years.

Sutherland credits the increase to the success and greater exposure given to the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars as well as the introduction of the inaugural Women's Big Bash League last season.

But while cricket has made significant developments at the top level of women's sport, it's hardly alone in that regard.

The introduction of a women's Australian Football League early next year and the gold medal winning performance of Australia's women's rugby sevens team at the Rio Olympics has underlined the increased competition for the hearts and minds of girls and women when it comes to playing, and developing an interest in, sport.

But given all women's sport at the highest level in Australia remains well behind the professional conditions of their male counterparts, Sutherland says there is still scope for talented female athletes to play more than one sport. 

"We encourage that. We don't see in the women's game that it's a matter of competition or choice," he said.

"Ellyse Perry is a great example of a very talented athlete ... (and) we've given her the opportunity to continue to soccer career and at the same time the other way around.

"The opportunity for women to play two sports, a winter sport and a summer sport, are there and we don't believe we should be encouraging girls to make a choice or forcing them to make a choice."

And while other sports have made significant steps towards encouraging greater female participation, Sutherland is satisfied with cricket's place in the sporting landscape.

"I don't think (the introduction of the women's AFL has) had much of an impact for us," he said.

"We've had a national competition for over 70 years now so from that perspective, cricket has led the way for a long time in terms of a pathway for women's cricketers and for girls to look up to.

"We took it to another level with the Women's Big Bash League and the broadcast of matches through the Ten Network and the huge crowds we saw attending a number of those games. And we've got high hopes for the Women's Big Bash League taking another step up this year.

The inaugural WBBL attracted big TV audiences on Network Ten // Getty
The inaugural WBBL attracted big TV audiences on Network Ten // Getty

" ...the exposure of the Southern Stars, a world champion team, over the course of the past decade, and the opportunity for them to have greater exposure through broadcasts on the Nine Network, has also been a significant factor in increasing the popularity of women's cricket.

"It's been a really sharp focus for us over the course of the last few years ... (and) we have high hopes for significant increase in female participation, particularly for girls, over the next couple of years."

The story of Perry as a cross-code pioneer - the 25-year-old been capped 160 times for her country in cricket as well as 18 times in soccer - is well known in Australian sport and a handful of other athletes are following her lead.

Tennis player Ash Barty played nine matches for the Brisbane Heat in the WBBL last season before returning the tennis circuit, while the likes of Jess Cameron (cricket and football), Mathilda Carmichael (cricket and hockey) and Emma Kearney (cricket and football) will again juggle two sports over the next 12 months.

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And former hockey star Kate Hollywood, a two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist and 2008 Olympian, will trial for a WBBL contract for the coming season as part of a Cricket NSW initiative that is hoped will convince other leading female athletes to try their hand at cricket, while soccer player Ashley Spina will also take part in a similar trial conducted by Queensland Cricket.

"We've encouraged talented athletes to have a go at playing cricket," Sutherland said.

"Ash Barty ... is a great example of someone who is a talented athlete who can make that transition and we would encourage others to have a go at it."

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Dottin celebrates winning the women's World T20 final // Getty