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Girls celebrating after a cricket match

Clearing the boundaries

In 2015, our group sustainability graduate Angus Berry founded the charity Connecting Clubs to harness sport’s power in achieving social change in developing countries.

Angus Berry, group sustainability graduate and Connecting Clubs charity founder

Nidda Yusuf, assistant project manager for the connected clubs charity

His inaugural project received funding from us and used cricket coaching to address gender discrimination in Nepal’s second largest city Biratnagar. Angus and assistant project manager Nidda Yusuf reflect on the experience.

Angus Berry

I had the blueprint for the charity in my mind, but nowhere to set it up. When a friend from university told me about the problems in his hometown of Biratnagar, in the aftermath of Nepal’s devastating earthquake in 2015, I knew immediately that I had found the missing piece of the jigsaw.

Looking back, our most important decision when setting up Cricket for Equality was to consult locally on the big issues that most needed to be tackled. The danger with such an initiative is that outsiders come in and tell local people how they should run their society. We asked: What’s holding back development in Biratnagar? The answer we were given time and again was gender inequality.

Asking teenage boys to talk about gender inequality and violence is challenging wherever you are in the world. From New Hampshire to Nepal, they’re either uncomfortable, can’t see the problem, or they’re bored. Cricket allowed us to grab their attention. While Biratnagar is a relatively cosmopolitan city, if you go 10 minutes into the countryside, families still practice dowry.

So attitudes remain very conservative. We set out to confront the exclusion of women from sport and recreation. We encouraged them to take a lead where boys might be expected to do so. We spoke to them the same as the boys. You could see their confidence grow.

The earlier you can embed equality as a concept the better. The next step for the charity is to bring in lighter weight equipment that will appeal to lower school kids, aged six to 10. This will remove a barrier to entry for many children. Too often, their first taste of cricket is facing a rock-hard ball on a bumpy pitch with a bat they can barely lift, let alone swing.

If all of these kids become ambassadors for change in their communities; if they become the people who challenge gender stereotypes and challenge gender violence; then we can create a generation of change.

But it mustn’t stop there. Sport provides the spark to engage people who are not engaged by traditional education methods. This blueprint can be replicated across the world.

Nidda Yusuf

It was moving to see the girls play. To start off with they weren’t comfortable holding the bat and often took their eye off the ball. But the difference from day one to day five was astonishing.

Before long, the girls who had played before were going off on their own to coach the beginners. The boys also took pride in showing the girls how to hold the bat and how to bowl.

I was also moved to see how quickly the boys got their heads round gender bias. We acted subtly at times, getting them to interact with the girls in training, warm-ups or fitness. By the end, they had accepted that girls could play cricket too.

But we also made them answer tough questions, or they didn’t get their free coaching and equipment. They definitely began to recognise the unfairness in society. Why should their sister stay at home and clean, while they play sport? How does that make her feel? They had never been asked questions like this before.

For me, it is important that this is a long-term, sustainable project. The coaching – both in terms of cricket and gender sensitisation – is continuing, even if we can’t be there. We have a Facebook page to keep regular contact with the organisers and kids. They know we’re not going to abandon them.

Why does this matter to me? I am a woman. I am of south Asian background. When I was younger, I would visit my relatives in Pakistan. I would see first-hand the discrimination. Of course, living in the UK, this felt so alien to me. How can I have so much freedom and others don’t?

This charity is a powerful and personal part of my life. It means so much to get involved and help create lasting change.

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