The ECB has found itself in a gender pay row two days before the start of The Hundred after being accused by female players of failing to respond to requests for support for part-time players who are unable to work in their regular jobs during the tournament.
Female players will earn between £3,600 and £15,000 during the five week period they are part of their respective squads, well below their male counterparts whose contracts are worth between £24,000 and £100,000.
While the majority of female players in each squad are professional, at least five players – all of whom are likely to be earning at the lower end of the scale – in each of the eight sides are not. And those part-time players have also been informed that due to the Covid-safe environment in which teams are operating the ECB will have to conduct a risk assessment on their external working conditions before allowing them to leave managed team environments.
While some have adjusted to working remotely, others – who include personal trainers, logistics providers and physiotherapists – have had to decide whether to take the full five weeks as annual leave, or ask for additional time off. Telegraph Sport understands that at least one player was forced to decide between participating in The Hundred and leaving their job.
And the players have also been left frustrated after Telegraph Sport revealed earlier this month that 11 Australian women’s internationals who had originally been announced to participate in The Hundred had each been offered £10,000 as an "overseas disturbance fee”, in addition to their player salaries of £15,000.
When all 11 Australians eventually withdrew from the tournament, a number of players, including England internationals, formally asked the ECB whether the surplus funds might be used in support of those on the lowest pay brackets. The sport’s governing body confirmed that the question was raised, but Telegraph Sport understands that the players did not hear back until the ECB were approached for comment on the matter.
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"There are only five domestically-contracted girls earning a good wage now," England’s Kate Cross explained to Telegraph Sport. "And the Covid situation is not helping because you’ve got some girls who are having to pull out of work now, who are probably on the lower end of the money payments [for The Hundred]. There’s no subsidy for them, as they are not allowed to go out of the environment and work.
"So the ECB probably need to address that. If they want to move forward, even more so, I think that’s where they’re probably going to need to start investing. The situation that came out of the fact that the [Australian women were no longer being offered the overseas disturbance fee] was, can the money that is now not being used, be used to top up those lowest contracted girls? And I don’t know, because I didn’t get an answer.
"And that’s where I worry. I don’t want girls to drop out of cricket because they can’t afford to play. Until those lower brackets are topped up, you could have some girls dropping out of this [tournament] because ultimately it’s not worth their while with work. And that’s the real shame for me. There must be many ways around it but, yeah, that’s the situation that we’re in."
The Hundred has prided itself on providing an equal platform for the men’s and women’s game, with the first match in the competition being a women’s game between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals at The Oval on Wednesday night. Marketing campaigns, matchday experience and prize money are identical for both games, but those involved are frustrated by the stance on pay for players at the lower end.
"Their hands are tied," said one professional cricketer of those players forced to choose between participating in The Hundred and holding down an external job. "The money could do so much good. But it didn’t even exist until [the ECB] got found out."
While the ECB’s chief executive, Tom Harrison, has insisted that The Hundred will not operate in a ‘bio-secure bubble’, Telegraph Sport understands that, as a result of the rising number of Covid infections in the UK, the criteria needed to pass any risk assessment to leave a team environment are high. Those players who have been announced to work in media positions for rights-holders covering the tournament, including Tammy Beaumont, Alex Hartley and England captain Heather Knight, have been given permission to continue those roles.
A spokesperson for The Hundred said: “These compensation payments have been specifically offered to those overseas women’s players who face significantly more complex journeys, extended periods of quarantine, and longer spells away from home – challenges domestic players do not face on the same scale. While some overseas players have not been able to travel, we have been pleased to find a number of replacements who are still entitled to compensation payments.
“Contingency funds used for these payments are also having to meet a wide range of additional costs in staging the competition and keeping people safe during a pandemic, so it is not possible simply to redistribute money to other players. We are proud of the opportunity The Hundred is giving to young developing players across both the women’s and men’s game and believe the competition will continue to drive the growth of women’s cricket in England and Wales.”