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Blind cricketers left to fund own way to national championships after WA Cricket decision

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After months of dedicated training, an email on the afternoon of Christmas Eve delivered Bradley Brider and his teammates a devastating blow.

As captain of 'The Venetians', as they call themselves, he and his teammates had been looking forward to representing WA at the National Cricket Inclusion Championships, set to be held in Brisbane in March.

The competition is also a critical pathway for players looking to secure a spot in Australia's national blind cricket team.

But those hopes were dealt a blow when WA Cricket told players they would not be sending a number of their community cricket teams interstate this year.

"I couldn't think for a bit," Mr Brider said.

In the email, seen by the ABC, WA Cricket said the decision was partially driven by the organisation's finances, after the state's top-tier cricket season was decimated by border restrictions.

The decision was also influenced by the risk of people catching COVID interstate and concerns over border restrictions.

A letter from WA Cricket.
WA Cricket explained the decision to players, saying it was an unfortunate result.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

"This means we also have to make some difficult decisions in relation to where our resources are directed for the remainder of the season," the email read.

"This decision has not been made lightly. But we believe it is the right decision."

It has left the side with no choice but to raise the $6,000 fee themselves, at which point WA Cricket has agreed to support their trip.

Rare shot for the Venetians

National championships are a highlight for cricketers of all levels.

But for players living with disability, the events are even more special because it is often the only time they can compete on a level playing field.

WA Cricket's decision has meant the intellectual disability, as well as the deaf and hard-of-hearing teams, will miss out on that opportunity this year.

A man kneels to the ground to play blind cricket.
Blind cricket is mostly played along the ground, with players listening for the ball.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

But Tony Sutton, the secretary of Blind Cricket Australia, said the blind and vision-impaired side would be the hardest hit if they could not compete.

They play a modified version of the game, with underarm bowling and a ball that players can hear.

With so few players in WA, it means their only chance to play games is to organise matches against sighted teams.

A man in a blazer stands in front of cricketers training.
 Blind Cricket Australia's Tony Sutton says the announcement has devastated players.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

"The only time they actually get to play in a cricket competition at all is at the national championships," Mr Sutton said.

He said the impact that opportunity had was immeasurable.

'It's really the only opportunity we have'

Deanne Ferris started playing blind cricket in 2006 and said nothing compared to competing in nationals.

"We're really happy that people do come along and play blind cricket against us, but it's not the same as that level playing field," she said.

"It's really the only opportunity we have to play blind cricket, rather than a different version of cricket."

A woman playing blind cricket.
Deanne Ferris says it is disappointing players weren't consulted.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Country and Aboriginal teams will also miss out on the chance to play their interstate counterparts.

A decision on whether the state's Under-19 teams will get to travel to their national competition is set to be made next month.

WA Cricket chief executive, Christina Matthews, said she understood the team's disappointment.

"But it's not a choice we're making because we don't want to [send them]. It's a choice we're making because [of] circumstances around it, both from a medical and a financial point of view," she said.

Ms Matthews said players would still be given opportunities to train and compete within WA, including against other players with disabilities.

Mr Sutton said teams in South Australia and Tasmania were also in similar positions.

COVID too risky, WA Cricket says

WA Cricket explained to players that there were three reasons for their decision.

That included the availability of players and support staff, given the championships had been delayed into the off-season, as well as coronavirus concerns.

"The spread of COVID-19 in the other parts of Australia at the moment is, we believe, too high a risk to be sending people away," Ms Matthews said.

A woman looking at the camera smiling.
WA Cricket chief executive Christina Matthews says it was a carefully considered decision.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Ms Matthews also pointed to worries about the vulnerability of some players, were they to contract COVID-19.

"Our preference is that they wouldn't go, but I don't feel that I'm in a position to make a decision on individuals' health," she said.

Mr Brider said while he understood WA Cricket's view, it could have been accommodated by discussing those issues with the team.

"The problem is that we're still going to be going under the WACA's uniform," he said.

Four cricketers sitting on a bench.
The Venetians have continued training, as they raise the money needed to head east.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

He said while some players had already decided they would not attend because they were immunocompromised, it should have been left to individual players to choose.

Test, Big Bash blows cost $4.5 million

Ms Matthews confirmed the decision was also partially because WA Cricket's finances had been devastated through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state has hosted only one men's Big Bash League game this season, and in December lost the right to host the fifth Ashes Test.

A general view of Perth Stadium during a 2019 BBL match.
Perth lost the fifth Ashes Test due to challenges associated with WA's COVID-9 restrictions.(Getty: Daniel Carson)

At the time that decision was announced, Ms Matthews said there was not much to complain about if the price of living a "free life" during the last two years was losing a Test match.

But she did acknowledge it would come with a cost to community sport.

The latest estimate is that WA Cricket will have lost $4.5 million by not hosting those matches.

"We'll obviously be working hard to cut our expenses and look at where we can save money," Ms Matthews said.

"Our local community sport, we're still able to support certainly up until the fifth of February, and then we'll know what changes at that point.

"It has more an impact on the travelling and the extra costs that come."

Team still on track to reach championships

Despite the challenges, the blind and vision-impaired team looks set to successfully raise the $6,000 they need to head to nationals.

But Mr Brider hopes they will also be able to raise extra money to support the intellectual disability and hearing impaired and deaf teams, so they make it too.

"Inclusion cricket is a whole thing, and we want to be seen as a whole team, not just us," he said.

A man in a yellow shirt bowls a cricket ball underarm.
The Venetians are continuing to train and prepare for the championship.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

The all-rounder said despite the hiccup, the side still had a good relationship with WA Cricket.

"It's an unfortunate situation but I think we're doing well to make the best of it," he said.

"They're looking to move in a positive direction, and hopefully something like this never happens again."

Ms Ferris said the club was taking it all in stride.

"We've been going 50 years, so we're a strong club," she said.

The 'Venetians' said they did not expect the recent changes to WA's border reopening date to effect their plans to play at the championships in Brisbane.

Source: ABC

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