How to increase diversity in the Dutch women's game?
One massive difference between men’s and women’s cricket in the Netherlands – apart from the obvious one that men and boys outnumber women and girls by a factor of more than ten to one – lies in the demographics.
Over the past thirty years Dutch men’s cricket has witnessed a transformation in its ethnic and social character: historically a sport played by the native Dutch upper middle-class, the men’s game is now much more diverse.
Indeed, more than 55% of all male cricketers in the Netherlands are of Asian origin: they or their parents or grandparents come from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, or Suriname, the latter descendants of almost 35,000 indentured labourers who were imported from India in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
But for their involvement, Dutch cricket at the grassroots would be in even worse trouble than it now is, for the decline in playing numbers by a third since the mid-1980s has been twice as great among the indigenous Dutch population, a fact which is masked by the compensating rise in the numbers of the ‘new Dutch’.
None of this applies, however, to women’s cricket, which has seen a parallel decline but without the compensating effect of increased Asian involvement.
In 1986, 36 teams from 29 different clubs took part in the KNCB’s women’s competition; last year it was 9 from 11. Furthermore, of those 29 cricket clubs playing thirty years ago, twelve have disappeared entirely.
The KNCB recognises the extent of the problem, and the plan for developing women’s cricket, adopted in 2013, sets ambitious targets for growing the women’s and girls’ game. One positive sign is the rapid growth in girls’ cricket, where numbers have more than doubled in three years, albeit from a very low base.
Yet the impact of this in the Netherlands’ Asian communities has so far been negligible. No doubt there are in part deep cultural causes for this: in many families sport is seen as an activity for boys, not for girls. And in some cases this may be reinforced by religious influences as well.
The result is that a significant pool of talent remains largely untapped. Not only that: the lower participation levels of girls in sport has significant health and social implications for the girls themselves.
The moment is now right for tackling this head-on. The ICC’s live streaming of the Women’s World Cup Qualifier has given the women’s game valuable exposure, and that will be true in spades this summer, when the top sides in the world will be seen on television competing for the World Cup itself. That should be a powerful antidote to the widespread prejudice which undoubtedly exists against the women’s game.
And this is also the time to pursue an idea which until now has been unable to gain much traction: a visit by the Pakistani national women’s team to the Netherlands. With Pakistan having just qualified for the Women’s World Cup, an invitation from the KNCB would be timely.
Such an event would have several valuable functions. First, and most important, it would enable Dutch girls and young women of Pakistani extraction – and their mothers and fathers – to see what a great game for women cricket actually is.
We all know how significant role models are in influencing young people’s attitudes and aspirations. Watching Javeria Khan batting, or Nashra Sandhu or captain Sana Mir bowling, could fire that spark of ‘I want to do that!’ which is where most worthwhile ambitions begin. And persuade parents that playing cricket is entirely compatible with being female.
At the same time, Dutch girls of all backgrounds would get the chance to see the women of their own national team performing on the international stage. Valuable is the Netherlands’ participation in the ECB’s one-day competition unquestionably is, it is a great pity that all those matches have to be played in England.
The last time a women’s team from an ICC Full member played in the Netherlands was the visit of the West Indies in 2008. The national side’s loss of ODI status three years later has, of course, made arranging high-quality fixtures more difficult, and the results of that West Indian tour revealed how great the gap in quality was, even at that stage.
The Dutch national women’s team is now in a rebuilding phase, and its players benefit from every bit of cricket they can be offered. If funding does not allow them to go touring in the winter, a series of home matches against Pakistan would be a massive bonus.
And it might even attract some targeted sponsorship!