Gender equality campaigners call on Lord’s to cancel men’s Varsity fixture
The Stump Out Sexism (SOS) campaign has called upon Marylebone Cricket Club to revoke its traditional invitation to Oxford and Cambridge universities to play the men’s Varsity match at Lord’s, unless a women’s game is also included.
Replying to a request from the campaign to “step in” to find an “equitable solution” to a disagreement about gender parity in university cricket, the MCC chief executive, Guy Lavender, wrote in a letter on Friday that Lord’s would be “very happy to accommodate a men’s and women’s T20 double header on the same day next year” in response.
But he also suggested the dispute was “primarily a matter for [the] respective universities” and stopped short of committing to intervene to ensure the match came to fruition.
While that response has encouraged the organisers of the SOS campaign, who have noted they won more commitment from MCC in two days than they had from the universities’ cricket clubs in two-and-a-half years, they describe themselves as “not completely satisfied”.
They argue that MCC could go further and use their power as hosts to insist on gender parity. The men’s varsity match has been played (in various formats) at Lord’s for almost 200 years. The women’s match has never made it beyond the Nursery Ground and this year, with Lord’s undergoing a redevelopment, has not even made it that far.
Now, while expressing their appreciation for the MCC offer, the SOS campaign have called for a “further commitment to ensuring the Varsity fixture is equitable”.
The men’s Varsity match, a 50-overs a side affair, is scheduled to be played on May 23. Despite previous requests from figures involved in the SOS campaign (notably the former Oxford University captain, Vanessa Picker) to share the day with the women’s teams (meaning the men’s match would become a T20), the universities’ cricket clubs have been reluctant to do so. While SOS were delighted to gain such a swift reply from MCC, they have now called upon them to go a step further and compel the clubs to comply.
“We do not accept that, as their letter states, this is primarily a matter for the universities,” SOS said in a statement. “The MCC have control over their own calendar and thus have the power to influence the parameters of fixture invitations and to raise the bar further.
“We, therefore, ask the MCC to specify that the offer of next year’s Oxbridge Varsity match being played on the main ground is entirely conditional upon both the men’s and the women’s teams being involved equally. If the clubs continue to insist that any date should be exclusively for the men, the invitation must be revoked.
“A tentative offer of a double-header T20 Varsity event in a future season (which is still contingent on the clubs agreeing to do this) does not make up for years of exclusion.”
While acknowledging that “it may indeed be too short notice” to convert this year’s Varsity fixture at Lord’s into a T20 double-header – not least because is being used as a test event to enable MCC to gain a license to host the first Test against New Zealand 10 days later – the campaigners have requested a “women’s match to be scheduled for later this season.”
Their statement continues: “We request that the MCC utilise one of the days currently unallocated on the 2021 fixture list (of which there are still 95) to schedule at least a 100-ball format match for the women.”
It is perhaps worth noting that, among those taking to Twitter to express their support for the SOS campaign was Beth Barrett-Wild, the Head of The Hundred Women’s Competition and Female Engagement at the ECB. She played in three Varsity matches – all on the Nursery Ground at Lord’s – and also previously worked in the MCC communications department. She is, therefore, not without influence.
In the longer term, though, the disagreement could compromise the future of Varsity cricket at Lord’s. The MCC executive is already acutely sensitive to the club’s reputation towards inclusivity – a reputation they feel is out-dated – and may have little tolerance for being dragged into what they see as someone else’s fight. Their attitude might be summed up with a phrase uttered by many a frustrated parent: if you can’t share nicely, you won’t get to play at all.
MCC have, over the last couple of decades, pumped millions of pounds in university cricket (as sponsors of the MCCU scheme), funded numerous leagues and coaching schemes in the community, started to recognise the achievements in women’s internationals on the ground on honours boards and recently announced the appointment of their first female president (former England captain Clare Connor starts the role in October). As a result, they are more than a little peeved at any suggestion they may be the villains of the piece.
At the same time, the disagreement may also draw attention to the somewhat antiquated tradition of hosting Varsity matches at Lord’s at all. There are many other organisations (not least other universities) with equal claims on the basis of cricketing merit and Oxbridge’s connotations with privilege and entitlement may not be helpful to the modern MCC.
SOS campaigners have also confirmed they will be approaching the cricket clubs at both universities to request “confirmation that they will respond favourably to the MCC’s invitation for a men’s and women’s T20 double-header”. They are also asking “that an apology be made by the clubs for failing to address this issue sooner despite repeated requests”.
ESPNcricinfo contacted MCC and officials at both university cricket clubs for comment. MCC declined; officials from the cricket clubs had not, at the time of publication, responded
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo