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Women cricketers hit sixes too

The England women’s cricket team will be met by a sell-out crowd of 26,500 people as they walk through the Long Room and out onto the pitch at Lord’s for their World Cup final clash against India on July 23. The last time England won this competition on home soil, in 1993, the players had to receive special permission to make the same walk through the pavilion, which did not officially open its doors to women until 1999.

This record attendance for an international women’s cricket game in England and Wales is testament to the game’s development. But it also exceeds the expectations of many – including Lord’s owners, the Marylebone Cricket Club, which required reassurance from the International Cricket Council that it would be able to fill the nation’s largest cricket ground.

Encouragingly, 31% of those 26,500 tickets have been sold to under 16-year-olds. This positive sign of the growing popularity of the women’s game among young people was also evident in the inaugural Kia Super League – a 20-over women’s tournament – in 2016: 42% of fans attended with families.

Super strength

A criticism of women’s cricket has been the perception that it is less entertaining than its male counterpart. A lack of sixes and slower bowling has been attributed to an alleged lack of strength and physicality in women. This perception has not been confined to cricket – many female athletes have had to battle against the traditional notion that strength is a “quintessentially masculine attribute”. This notion suggests that women are not only incapable of acts of strength, but that they should also be viewed negatively if striving to achieve them.

After England’s exit from the 2013 World Cup, coach Mark Lane suggested that part of their downfall may have been their lack of big hitters. The England squad have since channelled their efforts into improving their hitting. Alongside the already emphatic hitting ability of women players across the world, such as India’s Harmanpreet Kaur who hit seven sixes and 20 fours in her team’s semi-final win over Australia, this defies both the traditional notions of strength and the subsequent perceptions of the game.

Players seek to combine strength with skill. The number of sixes England have hit has risen from just three in 2013, to 20 in this year’s tournament so far. This continued increase in the quality of cricket, aided by the 2014 introduction of full-time professional contracts, is perhaps one contributor to the growth in popularity among fans and players across the country.

Grassroots growth

Since 2005, more than 1.5m girls in state schools have played cricket through the Chance to Shine charity. The number of clubs in the country with women and girls’ sections has risen from 90, ten years ago, to now more than 700. Chance to Shine street projects have also provided opportunities for young people who may not have access to local clubs.

Despite this growth, the 2014 ECB National Playing Survey indicated that still only 7% of participants in England and Wales were female.

The England womens’ World Cup games have had a community feel to them. Average ticket sales have been higher than any previous women’s World Cup at around 1,700 per game and women have purchased 50% of the tickets. These matches have been well-attended by women and girls’ club teams from across the country coming together to support the national team.

These fixtures provide the perfect social opportunity for the women and girls’ cricket community in a family-friendly atmosphere. This is an atmosphere that seems to have been lost in some forms of the men’s game, such as the domestic T20 competition in which crowds are now often much more alcohol-focused than family-focused.

The presence of tangible, accessible role models in women’s cricket has also contributed to the rising interest in the game from young people. Prior to the introduction of their full-time playing contracts three years ago, England women were employed by the ECB as both players and coaches, allowing them to spend a large amount of time with young people in the game. The ongoing involvement of high-profile Chance to Shine Coaching Ambassadors such as England captain Heather Knight – and a playing schedule that is less demanding on their time than the men’s – mean that this contact time has continued. The best women’s players in the country have been allowed to maintain a close, hands-on relationship with the grassroots game – a huge positive in the engagement of young people.

The strength of women’s cricket continues to grow in England and Wales. The second year of the domestic T20 Kia Super League begins less than three weeks after the World Cup final, featuring top players from across the world. This year eight games will be shown live on Sky Sports. The signs for both the professional and grassroots games appear positive – and women cricketers are only going to keep hitting more and more sixes.

The Conversation

Hannah Newman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

As the Australian cricketers' industrial dispute drags on, here's what we've learnt

The Australian cricketers' refusal to work is a potent form of player power, however the potential benefits may be illusory. AAP/Darren England

The pay dispute between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association reflects broader issues of workers seeking to increase their share of the wealth they help create through their labour.

In stalled negotiations, the players’ assertion of their rights to a greater share of revenue can only be tested by their preparedness to strike in support of such claims. Such drastic steps are only contemplated when negotiations reach an impasse, like when employers seek to maintain current revenue-sharing deals, or – as in this case – seek to deal with individual players directly.

The players’ refusal to work is a potent form of player power, but the potential benefits may be illusory. As the dispute drags on, both parties run the risk of alienating consumers (the viewing public), and possibly damaging the sporting brand.

The players’ strike in search of improved salaries across the cricket spectrum and several other demands, also recognises that an inflationary marketplace has emerged in professional sport.

A unique workplace

A feature of contemporary professional sports is that players are becoming increasingly well-organised and militant. In this way, professional sports is bucking major trends in industrial relations, such as a marked decline in both union membership and industrial disputes over recent decades.

Professional athletes now earn salaries far above those of other workers. Yet despite a profitable financial career, these athletes often form player associations to improve their employment conditions.

The need to form associations is due to a series of employment restrictions that limit the earnings of professional athletes at all levels. This is a unique characteristic of professional sport. Governing authorities have power to impose controls that would not be permitted in other workplaces.

Such controls include:

  • fixing employees’ rates of pay;

  • restricting the industry demand for labour;

  • imposing compensation fees on players when moving between employers; and

  • providing clubs with an equitable access to the supply of talent through measures like player drafts.

These restrictions are justified by the need to foster junior development, to maintain public interest in sport by creating “competitive balance” (or even competition), and to ensure the sport’s financial viability.

Differences between the codes

The balance of power in professional sport in Australia has predominately remained with the governing authorities. But players are clearly having a greater influence.

The bargaining power of athletes differs between various Australian team sports. The AFL and NRL offer the greatest opportunities for athletes to demand high salaries. These competitions have 18 and 16 professional clubs respectively, and each wants to attract the best players. Therefore, there are several prospective employers competing for the athletes’ services.

The situation that exists in professional cricket is different. Professional cricketers have access to greatest financial rewards at international level. But at this level, there is only one team for Test cricket and two teams for limited-overs cricket. However, there is also an avenue to cricket riches though the Indian Premier League.

So, Australian cricketers competing for a place to represent their country are employed in a marketplace with only one employer.

There are lucrative rewards for players who reach this pinnacle and are contracted to Cricket Australia. However, domestic players, and women cricketers, are not reaping the same financial benefits.

The current impasse is being spearheaded by those contracted to Cricket Australia. The issue at stake for these players is that the collective agreement process be respected by the employer, and that the interests of all professional cricketers are protected.

Where to from here?

Much of the focus of the dispute revolves around whether there will any disruption to this summer’s Ashes series.

However, the more salient issue in the longer term is that the dispute can be interpreted as a test of power. The outcome is likely to shape future negotiations in cricket and potentially other professional sporting codes.

In most other industries, the strength of organised labour has been aggressively challenged by government regulations that have sought to curb union power, and by assertive employers seeking to bypass unions in support of direct negotiations with employees. Unions now live in a contrary world.

Yet, if there is an intention to sideline player associations in major Australian sporting codes, employers may find there is no such decline in the power of organised labour in sports. Quite the opposite.

Industrial relations, like cricket, is a contest. The employment relationship embeds both co-operation and conflict, in what’s been described as a form of “structured antagonism”.

This concept recognises that both parties have a joint stake in the success of their enterprise, but nevertheless have different interests that need to be resolved through either co-operative employment relations – where employers and workers partner together – or adversarial relations and disputes.

Across different codes, athletes now have a louder voice to assert their interests. And they are expressing a clear preference for a larger share of the pie, and that negotiations occur through collective agreements with their chosen representatives.

Both on and off the field, the stakes are high. And in the industrial relations of sport there are winners and also losers, particularly when the parties fail to work together.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Why Thoreau, born 200 years ago, has never been more important

Walden Pond. Ekabhishek/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” urges American transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau in Walden (1854), his account of living frugally in a log cabin near Concord, Massachusetts. “Let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”

This imperative in Thoreau towards contraction rather than expansion made enemies of those in his period who were committed to America’s dizzying industrial and technological progress: “I prefer walking on two legs,” Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier sniffily remarked. And if Thoreau’s contemporaries sometimes recoiled in distaste from his radical downsizing, even greater resistance to his work might be anticipated from readers in our own moment.

Thoreau, born 200 years ago on July 12 1817, appears at first glance strikingly ill-adapted for the modern West. While it has long been fashionable to assert that, were he alive now, Shakespeare would seamlessly have tweaked his creative mode and written for EastEnders, few would make comparable predictions of Thoreau’s success in the contemporary mediascape. The only Twittersphere to interest him would be that occupied by blue-jays and redstarts. Impossible to imagine, also, is him uploading to Instagram photos of his cabin at Walden, or of Maine woodlands and Cape Cod beaches (subjects of two other major books).

Henry David Thoreau, 1856.

Even the slowly dribbling “news feed” of mid-19th-century New England was seemingly too much for Thoreau, experienced as irritation to the point of pain. “For my part, I could easily live without the post-office,” he writes in Walden, seemingly excusing himself from circuits of worldly communication in order to retreat more effectively into the contemplative mode he practises by his Massachusetts pond. A tendency in Thoreau towards inwardness or self-reliance looks startlingly out of kilter with our networked world. From Walden, again: “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” Here is the transcendentalist appearing withdrawn, anti-social, even potentially sociopathic.

But if there may be something off-putting about Thoreau’s work for contemporary readers, there are also elements that should invigorate. The occasion of his bicentenary prompts us to identify several ways in which he continues to speak eloquently to us. For his critique of commodity culture and his sensitivity to environmental degradation, Thoreau has in fact never been more indispensable than he is now.

Dazzled by gold

One of the most damning portraits in Walden is of the ruthlessly acquisitive farmer Flint, “who would carry the landscape, who would carry his God, to market, if he could get anything for him”. Flint is mesmerised, too, by “the reflecting surface of a dollar, or a bright cent.” How can this not resonate at a time when the US president himself is dazzled almost to blindness by the gold dripping off each interior surface of Trump Tower?

There is a shimmering appeal to consumer products to which Thoreau is remarkably unresponsive. Few people, perhaps, will want to emulate him in the degree to which he gives up money, goods, stuff. But when he urges Walden’s reader to “cultivate poverty like a garden herb”, his own class privilege goes unquestioned. What about all those for whom poverty is fate, not lifestyle choice?

Nevertheless, Thoreau’s acute observations in Walden of how people are imprisoned or suffocated by their commodities throw down a challenge to us. Perhaps, he writes, “a man is not required to bury himself [in] superfluous property”? Thoreau is thus the laureate of decluttering, helping us to imagine alternatives to our beguilement by consumer experience.

Turning to the woods

“Nature excels in the least things,” writes Thoreau in an essay titled “Huckleberries”. His own writing is similarly fine-grained in its attention to ecological detail. If he was parsimonious in domestic economy, he was prodigal in descriptions of nature, spending words extravagantly. Think, say, of the journal entry for his 34th birthday in 1851, when he evokes a skunk on a “bare garden hill”, a “foolish robin” and a “lightning bug [with its] greenish light”. Such moments valuably reawaken us to the sights and textures of our natural world, giving this potentially some traction against its erasure in favour – Trumpishly – of an oil pipeline or golf course.

For if there is a poetics of nature in Thoreau, there is always also a politics. His sensuous zoology and botany strikes “a counter-establishment stance”, as US literary critic Lawrence Buell puts it.

But this is not to say that in his work Thoreau retreats complacently into the woods. Consider a moment in the essay “A Yankee in Canada” when the reddening leaves remind him of an American genocide then still in progress: “An Indian warfare was waged through the forest.” Arboreal description gives way, by a sudden change of focus, to sardonic political commentary.

The passage is characteristic of the social engagement of Thoreau’s writing. In reading his work as he turns 200, we do not, after all, find simply a regressive or detached figure. Rather, we encounter a writer who frequently provides us with valuable intellectual and rhetorical resources to take into our ongoing struggles in the world.

The Conversation

Andrew Dix does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

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