Here’s an incredible story of Shruti Saujani, the City Programme Manager at England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Her role is focussed on empowering more women from Indian, Pakistan, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi backgrounds in Britain to play cricket at all levels. Her lifelong passion is to create equal opportunities in the game and she recently dedicated her dissertation to understanding the barriers that people from South Asian backgrounds face in sport. Her dedication for a more equal playing ground in cricket has seen her appear on the BBC, Sunrise Radio and a number of other media titles.

Tell us about your initial days working with ECB and how did it all begin?

I began working for the ECB last year and the past 11 months have been the best days of my career. Sometimes it feels like a dream. The organization’s values and company culture align with my own, we are passionate about bringing a change for the women’s game. Everyone at the ECB has been incredibly welcoming and I certainly wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for their support.

Have you always been a cricket/sports fan? Ever dreamt of being a pro cricketer yourself?

Growing up cricket was the number one sport in my household. My dad has a huge passion and love for the game and passed it down to me and my brothers. It would have been so great to be the next Isa Guha and I would have loved to play a sport that I love so much, however, I am extremely lucky to be leading a project which keeps me close to the game and able to inspire people through cricket.

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As a city program manager, what is an ideal day in your life?

As the City Programme Manager, I look after a team nationally across seven core cities and our key focus is to engage 2000 south Asian females into activator roles leading our national entry-level kids’ program – All Stars Cricket. We are trying new and innovative ways to take cricket to the heart of inner-cities and to inspire the next generation to take up the game.

Everyone at the ECB has been incredibly welcoming and I certainly wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for their support.

A part of your role includes directing a national engagement team, whose job it is to recruit 2,000 South Asian women into activator roles – how is that process going?

The process is going great, we have a national city team championing the recruitment of South Asian women. We are only 11 months in and we have seen some phenomenal results recruiting over 550 SA women all wanting to bring about a change for the game we all love so much.

What are the eligibility criteria for the recruitment of these females?

There isn’t a criterion – we will find a way for these incredible women to get involved, I guarantee once they are involved they will want to do more and more.

The program includes the participation of parents – how has the mother-daughter engagement in the game been?

Initially, as it was a new concept for South Asian women they didn’t know what to expect or even if they could take part. As you know Cricket for that matter sport in the South Asian community has been seen traditionally as a “man’s or boys” activity, so to show the community that women and mums can play to has been great as we have been able to create role models in the community. Above all the mums especially have seen their bond strengthen with their daughters by taking part, it’s been great to see the relationship flourish.

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What do you think is the best thing that a kid takes forward after being a part of the program?

They have fun. The aim is that kids will get the best first experience of cricket underpinned by a ton of fun. They will also learn a range of movement skills and not forgetting each child who takes part will also receive a backpack full of goodies including a personalized shirt.

Initiatives of this kind haven’t been carried out by other countries, how important do you think it is for them to implement such things – especially in ICC’s associate cricketing nations?

If the ambition is to grow the game and make cricket a game for everyone. I think it is important to create as many opportunities for children from a young age in various different formats of cricket, it makes the game more appealing, fun and exciting.

Tell us more about the “South Asian Action Plan?”

The South Asian Action Plan aims to engage South Asian communities at every level of the game. The key aims of the strategy are to create more opportunities, remove the barriers to being involved in the game, build strong relationships and use cricket to make a positive difference to the South Asian communities. We know it’s not a quick fix but its definitely going in the right direction.

I think it is important to create as many opportunities for children from a young age in various different formats of cricket, it makes the game more appealing, fun and exciting.

What are some of the challenges you face while getting British South Asian women into the sport?

Some of the challenges we have worked and will continue working hard on overcoming are creating safe spaces for women to participate, hence the options of taking cricket to a faith center. There are a handful of South Asian women in sports and not everyone knows them, so we have worked super hard in elevating their names showing young girls that they too can be like the next Isa Guha or Naomi Dattani but also creating role models in the community through all the incredible women who have taken part. The other challenge which is not just in Britain is the cultural expectations, can women really play sport. Throughout 2019 we worked closely with a number of women to be our champions to help spread the word and as we go into 2020 we hope to overcome some of the stereotypes and continue showing society and communities that women can.

You were on TV during the break of one of the Ashes tests – how was that experience?

It was incredible. To have the opportunity to showcase some of the great achievements the city team has achieved that to in an unforgettable test match (Yep that ben stokes inning was incredible). Who would have thought that we would take cricket into a Temple? The knock-on effect was immense and the number of messages the team and I received to take part and be involved in our project in some shape or form was unbelievable.

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Being in the position that you are, what is your ultimate goal?

As the City program manager, I have an ambition, responsibility and hope to show the community that females from a south Asian background can be successful in sport and beyond. I also want to fly the flag for diversity, as we know it’s a huge strength for any team or organization.

Cricket has a unique power to unite everybody and everyone. Cricket is truly welcoming to everyone, you can get involved you just have to take the first step.

The all-stars program focuses on kids aged 5-8 years, how do you think girls between the same age group can be brought to play cricket in countries like India?

I think if you are able to create a fun, friendly and vibrant environment for young girls to play cricket then you are off to a great start. We know children aged five-eight want to have fun and enjoy themselves while playing the game. By creating an environment where they can thrive and enjoy, who knows what impact it could have – whether that is finding the next superstar or helping to develop a lifelong passion for the game

What is the most important thing you learned since you took up this responsibility with ECB?

Cricket has a unique power to unite everybody and everyone. Cricket is truly welcoming to everyone, you can get involved you just have to take the first step.

What according to you, is the best part of your job?

It’s when I see all the incredible women up and down the country share their experiences of what this project has meant for them for some its allowed them to grow in confidence, make friends, overcome mental health issues, do something for them and have fun. It makes it all worth it and fuels my ambition to continue driving a bigger change for 2020.

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How do you think women’s cricket can be further promoted in South Asian countries?

In any country I really think we need to elevate the role models we currently have, you can’t be what you can’t see. We need to support and empower those who have broken against the odds to play. It is also important to create playing opportunities for women and girls, if we don’t have a pool of young girls at the grassroots level we will never get that flow into the women’s game, so starting from the bottom up will take a little longer but it will have more sustainable and better results.

This interview was first published on Female Cricket.

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