Official data on participation within cricket is limited and can sometimes be misleading, and whilst historically there’s not a lot to compare to, anecdotal evidence tells us that the game of cricket is struggling to grow at the same pace as other mainstream sports. Countries like England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa do their best to record participation numbers but even by their own admission, it’s a challenge to capture every participant and report accurately.
Why are people playing less cricket?
Recreational weekend club cricket seems to be the main area in particular that's suffering from a decrease in particpation. Today, people are increasingly time-poor, and no longer have the desire or ability to spend hours on a field during the weekend. Gone it seems are the days of working on a Saturday morning, heading straight to the ground for a league game, having a few pints with the opposition afterwards then playing a “friendly” on a Sunday. We’re all too busy, or at least tell ourselves we are, to spend our weekends how generations before us did.
Other sports compete for attention, technology makes us feel we need to be constantly connected to our devices, or perhaps the game and it’s camaraderie just doesn’t offer enough any more. Whatever the reason, the recreational game certainly doesn't as strong as it once was.
What is being done to address this issue?
The good news is that these issues are already being addressed. New, shorter formats such as Last Man Stands, where matches are only two hours long, teams are 8-a-side and everything is done at high speed, are doing a good job of retaining amateur cricketers by simplifying the game. By scheduling matches at a time, place, and in a shortened format, efforts are being made to counteract the perception that cricket is inaccessible by those who don't have the time to spend hours on the field.
Increasing female participation in cricket
The ratio of female to male participation is disappointing, and a key area for development is the culture within the game and cricket organisation in terms of players feeling valued, supported and equal to their male counterparts. Pathways also were a key area for development for athletes, coaches and officials. Changes identified included having more teams in competitions, modified versions of the game, and more coaches available for girls and women. More promotion of the game is needed and involvement of role models; i.e. national women's players to advertise and sell the game of girls and women’s cricket to others within the game.
Cricket Without Borders is an organisation addressing the balance of female participation by promoting and developing the game of cricket for young women. There are many more are emerging with similar goals in mind.
National Governing Bodies around the world have seen the need for re-invention too. More new formats and new programmes aimed at the younger generation are currently gaining in popularity. Normally these involve shorter, more intense games filled with more “participation”. It’s a little early to see the difference these efforts will make to people staying in the game longer, but it’s a good start.
What can you do to increase participation for your cricket organisation?
Predicting the future is never easy, and hindsight is always 20:20. But unless we’re on the brink of another social shift, it seems likely that the game will only thrive if administrators keep up with the demands of the people that want to play the game but can’t. Pathways to longer-form cricket remain relevant and that‘s going to be the challenge, but is it possible that T20, which takes over 3 hours to play and is considered long among other sports already, could one day be considered long form? We can only wait and see.