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Clare Connor believes £20m will significantly grow women's cricket
"I am really driven by giving more girls that opportunity and that visible pathway to playing cricket," says director of England women's cricket Clare Connor
Last Updated: 08/03/19 5:58pm
Clare Connor has long been the driving force behind positive change for girls and women's cricket in England.
The former England captain followed up a successful playing career by being named as the England and Wales Cricket Board's head of the women's game in 2007 and played a pivotal role as the first central contracts were awarded in 2014 and the Kia Super League - the only professional women's domestic competition in the country - was formed.
After being at the heart of building the infrastructure that enabled Heather Knight's side to lift the World Cup trophy at a sold-out Lord's in July 2017, Connor was appointed managing director of women's cricket in January.
The promotion comes as the ECB makes transforming women's and girls cricket one of our six priorities throughout the next strategic period between 2020-2024.
"Probably for the first time in the history of the game we have got a really significant level of new investment," Connor told Sky Sports Cricket.
"It has been made possible through our guaranteed income over the next five years through our broadcast arrangements.
"A significant proportion of that is coming our way which I think shows the importance that the ECB is placing on the game for women and girls.
"We have a sense of how that £20m will break down over those first two years and we have to make sure participation connects with pathway opportunities and with performance.
"It is a wonderful opportunity to have a good sum of money and some really clear activities to try to drive that change. We have an ambition for the end of the strategic period in 2024 that more people than ever before will be able to say cricket is a game for me.
"If we are really serious about driving that relevance, then being to able to appeal to 51 per cent of the population and for cricket to have a really strong relationship with women and girls is going to be really important."
Two separate groups, looking at performance and participation, have been set up with the aim to use the early part of 2019 to test ideas of how best to engage with girls and women.
The latter part of the year will focus on recruitment and working with the counties and their boards to employee a new workforce that is required across the country to help deliver their plans.
With much of the current paid county workforce in place to work for the men's game, Connor wants to have dedicated people in place specifically focusing on the women's side of the sport.
"I went on a wonderful journey as a little girl learning about and playing cricket and was very privileged to be able to do that," she explained. "I am really driven by giving more girls that opportunity and a visible pathway.
"It obviously won't happen overnight, we have got lots of significant change to make but we have got pockets of really exciting things already happening to build on.
"We have seen real success with the women's softball festivals over the last couple of years, growth in areas where we are trying to give teenage girls and women a first fun opportunity of the game. It doesn't have to be all about whites, wearing pads and a helmet. It can be fun and casual.
"We need to make sure what we are offering girls is completely equitable and welcoming opportunities in clubs up and down the country and that girls have the access to good quality coaching if they get on to a talent pathway in a county age group program."
The growing appetite to play cricket for young girls can be seen from the improving numbers participating in All Stars Cricket, an ECB initiative aimed at providing children aged five to eight with a first experience of cricket.
In its first year in 2017, 37,000 kids signed up for the program with 16 per cent of those girls, while girls made up a fifth of the 59,000 children that joined in year two - double the number of 2017.
Connor has identified providing female players with more facilities and opportunities as an area with the biggest growth potential.
"It is a multi-faceted challenge but the good news is that we are hearing from women and girls they want to play more cricket," she added.
"Anecdotally I want to hear from this process that more women and girls feel a part of the game, whether that is as a spectator, fan or player.
"That they feel they have got the opportunity to work in it, volunteer in it, feel welcome and that cricket clubs are as equally the domain of women as they are of men.
"The challenges are significant and the opportunities are amazing. In a nutshell, if more women and girls feel a part of the game I love then that would be a good four to five years work."