As you may have already noticed, I like to big up women who play sport. Not only for potential spectators of all genders, but more specifically in the hope that it will encourage other women and girls to have a bash. After all, sport is great, innit? But when things go awry, as sometimes happens, it’s important to challenge the institution. With that in mind, I’d like to tell you about something that happened last week.

I’d been asked to bump up the numbers for a women’s cricket team one weekday evening. Standard, right? It was an away game at a well-organised, nice club who I understand do an awful lot for female cricket. The weather was typically grey and threatening with a touch of Manc spit, but the umpires called it good to go ahead. Some of the men’s team had even popped down to watch the game with a pint. Amazing, I thought, the guys are giving the women some moral support.

But as the game bedded in, it became apparent that some (but by no means all) of the male spectators were keeping a keen eye on proceedings. The threat of a downpour and the gentle mist of drizzle vexed them because, if it got too wet, it might mean that our continued playing on the pitch could negatively impact their game scheduled for the following morning.

I totally understand their frustrations; we all play sport for the love of it and no one wants a game called off. In fairness, we were all wondering whether the game would be paused but the umpire ruled that play continue.

Cricket, Hayley-Jane SimsHowever, it transpired that the group had already approached the club before the game to propose an ‘agreement’ – that the game should be called off at the first sign of rain to preserve the pitch for the next day, i.e. their game.

This was problematic, not least because it isn’t part of the ‘bad weather’ rules of a cricket match, and subsequently begged this question: was the game the following day considered more important? The answer? No, it was a league game, as was ours. Either way, the umpires were either none the wiser to the proposed agreement, or were rightly ignoring it.

A slight drizzle came and went in cycles, with one gentleman in particular becoming more and more perplexed. At one point, he hovered at the edge of the pitch to get the umpire’s attention in an attempt to persuade him to stop the game. But in the end, he didn’t want to be ‘the bad guy’. He tried to rope in another gentleman to fight the cause on his behalf, but the response was that while he understood his frustrations (we all did), he had to reiterate that the game in play was a league game just like their game tomorrow and ultimately, if the umpires deem it safe, then play continues. 

Eventually the rain set in a tad harder and the umpires called for the game to be paused to see if it would clear.

The home team, led by this group of male spectators, then sprinted onto the pitch to manoeuvre the covers. Ordinarily, this is when you see the covers being placed over the pitch currently in play to protect it until the game is either resumed or abandoned. This didn’t happen. Instead, the covers were placed over the pitch of the game due to be played tomorrow. The men’s pitch.Cricket, Hayley-Jane Sims

Being a cricket newbie, it took me a while to twig what was going on and when I did, I was astounded.

The game was still in play. It had not been called off and yet their actions meant that our pitch was getting more and more wet and thus the umpires were forced to call the game. The umpires objected to not covering the pitch in play but not enough to get the covers moved to the correct pitch.

It’s important to say that no one would object to the pitch being played the following day being protected after the current match was officially over. But the placement of the covers made sure that the game was called before the customary review. While the weather wasn’t looking hopeful, cricket is a game of rules, and in this instance the rules were disregarded without giving fair chance to the game in play.

The club in question does an awful lot for women’s cricket. They invest a huge amount in nurturing new and existing female players, so I don’t think for one second that this was a representation of the attitudes of the club. However, this is exactly the type of behaviour that needs to be called out. It may seem innocuous to some, but the ultimate message of this whole do-da was that the men’s game is more important than the women’s.

Girls and women can therefore play sport, but only if it doesn’t impact the male game.

Cricket, Hayley-Jane SimsI must say it was right warming to hear several men, as well as the male umpires, vocalising their anger at the actions of this small group. It’s ace to know that as women playing sport, there are plenty of guys who have got our backs. But in this instance, the resistance just wasn’t strong enough.

It’s a shame, isn’t it?

I’m sure the gentlemen in question would be shocked to think that their actions were a display of disrespect, and, dare I say it, sexist. Would the same situation have unfolded if it was a men’s game being played that evening? That’s a good question that I’ll leave to you to ponder.

I believe what happened will be formally fed back to the club who will no doubt (I hope anyway) be equally unimpressed. There’s no point investing in – and nurturing – the female game if you’re not going to give equal respect to both sexes.

For women in sport to continue to progress we need to take it seriously. We should all be responsible for challenging behaviour, and ensuring that we provide a respectful environment irrespective of gender or ability. That’s what sport is about. Otherwise, it’s just not cricket.

By Hayley-Jane Sims