Australia's female cricketers leap ahead in pay race

The Australia Women players sing the national anthem Getty Images

Australia's cricketers are now comfortably the highest paid female athletes in the country, with minimum retainers for the national team and domestic sides outstripping deals recently unveiled for top-tier contracts in soccer and AFL.

While 2017 has been a breakthrough year for female athletes across the country through the inaugural AFLW competition and this week's announcement of a new pay deal for female footballers with the Football Federation of Australia, the terms granted to cricketers under the MoU completed last week have put them well ahead of the rest.

Under figures obtained by ESPNcricinfo, the minimum contract for a Cricket Australia-contracted player (minus match payments, prize money and other performance bonuses) will be A$ 72,076 for 2017-18, as opposed to a "tier-one" representative of the Matildas national soccer team on A$ 41,000 a year. Listed players at AFLW clubs earn between A$ 5,000 and A$ 25,000 each.

All domestic contracted players - taking part in the WNCL and the WBBL - are entitled to deals worth A$ 25,659 from playing for their states, and a minimum A$ 10,292 (average of A$ 19,926) for playing in the domestic Twenty20 competition. By contrast, W-League soccer players will be paid wages ranging from A$ 10,000 to A$ 20,000.

Average wages for international female cricketers - factoring in match fees and performance bonuses plus WBBL retainers - will be around A$ 180,000 this season, rising to A$ 211,000 in 2021-22, the final year of the recently completed MoU. Average wages for domestic-only players will be around A$ 55,000 this season, rising to A$ 58,000 in 2021-22.

These figures, reached after a lengthy and often ugly period of negotiation and then dispute between CA and the Australian Cricketers Association, were always likely to be reached as both sides of the argument believed fundamentally in improving the lot of female players, not only by raising their wages but also by including all players in a single MoU for the first time.

However the women were caught in the middle of the dispute as all players were left out of contract after the previous MoU expired on June 30, a deadline that passed in the middle of the World Cup contested in England this year - squad members signed short-term deals to enable to stay employed throughout the tournament. Ironically, the few weeks spent without pay for the women echoed the experiences of many in earlier years of their careers, as the vice-captain Alex Blackwell has said.

"Women would have to take massive chunks of leave without pay, if not sacrifice their job, to go on tour to play for Australia," Blackwell said in the ACA's Onside magazine. "Over my career I have known team-mates of mine who have lost their jobs from being selected for their country and having to say to their employer, 'I'm away for five weeks'. What would happen if that player got injured two days into the tour, would be that they lose the financial benefit of the tour and be in a really poor and vulnerable position.

"This the first time that a female player group has come under an MoU, and for it to be one MoU combined is a historic event. I didn't always feel like we were respected as well as we could have been in terms of the part we play in growing the game. So, that's the first thing that this MoU makes me feel; like there has been a switch, and we are now partners in growing the game into something that is bigger and better."

CA has made a concerted effort to be more inclusive in recent years, and one of the battlegrounds of the pay war was the board's claims that the players association had shown as much willingness to strive for gender equity - a claim the ACA rejected. Its recent strategy document for the next five years made no secret of CA's desire to attract more women to the game as both fans and players, with major pay increases for female elite players a key part of their approach. The board's stated goals include to:

"Achieve gender equity across Australian Cricket. Develop and accelerate the opportunities for women in all areas and levels of our game. Sustainably grow women and girls' participation, and make sure they find cricket clubs welcoming and enjoyable places to be. Cricket becomes a viable professional career for talented female athletes, who will be supported by an expansive and structured female pathway. Grow women's elite cricket and remain number one in all formats. The WBBL becomes the undisputed leader of women's sporting leagues in the world."

While the WBBL is currently played concurrently with the BBL, CA has flagged plans to move the tournament to a standalone slot in the calendar in October. The men's and women's World T20 tournaments to be hosted by Australia in 2020 will be played in separate slots, the women in February-March and the men in October-November.