The ICC T20 Women’s World Cup starts this Friday night in Sydney with the opening match between Australia and India at the Sydney Showground at 7pm.
If I had to describe the way the T20 World Cup organising committee have approached this tournament and its organisation, I would use the word bold for a variety of reasons.
For the first time, the men’s and women’s tournaments are being held as stand-alone. That has given the women’s tournament the opportunity to capture the imagination of the general public and the build-up has been larger than anything I have seen before in the women’s game. Ellyse Perry is on the side of buses, cities are draped in flags and there has been plenty of advertising on television, in newspapers and online.
But what is even bolder is the goal to have a sell-out crowd for the final at the MCG on 8 March. The final coincides with International Women’s Day and the target is to make history and set a new world record for the highest attendance for a women’s sporting event. The current record is 90,185 and was set in 1999 in a FIFA Women’s World Cup final between the United States and China in California.
Over 90,000 people at the final is a big ask and unsurprisingly plenty have asked whether this is possible, especially if Australia does not make the final.
Despite having had an incredible two-year period, with the team winning an away Ashes series in June last year, breaking a world record for consecutive number of ODI wins and international accolades for the likes of Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy, making the final is not a guarantee.
T20 is the soap opera of cricket and almost anything can happen. All it takes is for a couple of batters to have a bad day or for one player on the opposition to have a break-out performance and the game can hang in the balance. During the WBBL we saw plenty of international talent, including the likes of Sophie Devine, Dane van Niekerk, Chloe Tryon, Amy Jones and Nat Sciver and their home countries will be hoping their positive form continues into the tournament.
Indeed, it’s not cause for concern, but in the most recent tri-series between India, England and Australia, the Aussies suffered shock losses to both opponents on their way to the trophy.
This tournament is going to be a competitive one and no team has a spot in the final guaranteed. But even if Australia doesn’t make the final, there is still an opportunity to shoot for the stars with this big goal of filling the MCG. And if Australia do make the final, there’s even more of a reason to push the agenda.
My other observation, though, is that fear of failure should not stop us from dreaming big. If we fail, so what? I applaud the organising committee for dreaming big and challenging the Australian public to get behind this tournament.
If 85,000 people attend the final, that isn’t failure. That is still a sensational crowd and worthy support for women’s cricket, which has been a game changer in Australia in the revolution when it comes to women’s sport. The success of the tournament will not be judged on the crowd at that final game, although it would be spectacular to break that world record.
Additionally, there has been some cynicism about whether the organising committee believe they can achieve the world on the back of the game itself.
When it was announced that Katy Perry would be the entertainment for the evening, some suggested that a game of women’s cricket would not be enough to generate the crowd and so a big announcement like Katy Perry was needed.
The reasoning being that even if people aren’t interested in cricket, they will potentially be willing to pay $20 for an adult ticket and $5 for a kids ticket to see Katy Perry.
I don’t subscribe to this cynical view. Having an international act like Katy Perry is not a detriment.
I’ve never had a similar conversation when it comes to the entertainment booked for an NRL grand final or an AFL grand final. In fact, I recall both codes making comments about their grand final entertainment over the years, hoping that their announcement would entice more people. When booking international acts like the Killers and Macklemore, both codes were hoping to drive attendance to their respective grand finals.
How is Katy Perry for this event any different? Particularly when the evening is about more than just cricket. Given it is International Women’s Day, this is a day about gender equality, and the broader the conversation, the better.
Even if some people are in attendance simply for Katy Perry, I have enough confidence in the strength of women’s cricket to know that they will enjoy a great spectacle and perhaps some of the people in attendance will become new fans of the game.
It’s time to get behind this World Cup and to be bold. The women’s game has gone from strength to strength in Australia thanks to some bold decision-making by the likes of Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia.
It’s time to take this bold approach to the international stage as well.