Women in cricket: Back from the brink

The latest addition to the board of New Zealand Cricket, Diana Puketapu, lifts the number of women in the sport’s governance to an unprecedented high – just a year after a damning report described female cricketers as “a species on the verge of extinction”. Suzanne McFadden reports.

Diana Puketapu spent many a Saturday on a fold-out chair on the edge of cricket ovals, cheering on her young daughter and son striving out in the middle.

She’d played a few social versions of the game herself – indoor, beach and backyard cricket. But her relationship with the sport pretty much wrapped up there.

Three years ago, Puketapu – an independent director on an array of governance boards around the country – was asked to put her name forward for the board of New Zealand Cricket. But, at that point, she simply couldn’t picture herself having a closer involvement with the game. “I wasn’t sure what I could bring to cricket,” she says frankly.

Things began to change when was she was invited to take part in the Women and Cricket, Cricket and Women review, carried out by former Auckland cricketer Sarah Beaman, whose damning report of the state of the game here was released exactly a year ago.

“I was asked to contribute as a woman who was involved in various sports in New Zealand,” says Puketapu, who is currently on the boards of the New Zealand Olympic Committee and Netball North Harbour and, at that stage, was chair of the audit and risk committee for the World Masters Games in Auckland. In the past, she’d been CFO for two America’s Cup teams.

“I was very keen to give feedback from my perspective, as someone who wasn’t given the opportunity to play cricket at school, but who’d played socially, and as a mother who’d had both children play the game.”

After having her say, Puketapu kept a keen eye on NZ Cricket, and what they did with Beaman’s report. “And I have to say I was very impressed with their response to the report - and their push to make cricket a game for all New Zealanders, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, age and socio-economic status,” she says.

So, when asked once again if she’d consider a place on the NZC board, to replace legend of the game Sir Richard Hadlee, she took a hard look at the sport’s strategic plan. “Suddenly I could see myself in cricket,” she says.

Last week, Puketapu was elected to the board at NZC’s annual general meeting, joining Liz Dawson and Ingrid Cronin-Knight as the third woman on a board of eight. With NZC also boasting its first woman president, Debbie Hockley, female representation is now at the highest level ever seen in cricket’s governing body.

Puketapu’s inclusion also boosts the number of female board members across NZ Cricket and the major and domestic associations to 35 – a conspicuous progression from the 11 women on boards at the time Beaman delved into her game-changing research.

Hockley has no doubt that Puketapu will be a major asset to the sport: “I think it speaks volumes that someone with such impressive credentials and skills wants to be part of the NZC board and governance model.

“To me, it’s just another sign that the push to open this game up and make it genuinely accessible to everyone is gaining real momentum. It's an exciting time for cricket in New Zealand and good people want to be involved.”

What really captured Puketapu in her trawl through cricket’s strategic goals was the marked growth in the women’s game (including a 12 percent increase in female participation numbers, and improved pay, playing conditions and broadcasting opportunities for the White Ferns); the One Cricket project led by Martin Snedden to strengthen cricket’s foundations in the community and domestically; and the 2021 Women’s World Cup, which New Zealand will host.

“The Women’s World Cup is a fabulous opportunity for NZ Cricket to gain some momentum in both the women’s and junior games. I can see where I can add some real value there, having worked for professional sports teams, and being able to share my experience in having helped deliver major sporting events,” she says.

Puketapu’s extensive financial background will be tapped into on NZC’s commercial finance and risk committee. For six years, she was CFO for BMW Oracle Racing and Team Origin. Upon leaving the America’s Cup, she managed the finances of Ngati Whatua o Orakei.

Her whakapapa is Ngati Porou in Gisborne, but she grew up on a kiwifruit orchard in Te Puke, where lauded local Lance Cairns became one of her childhood heroes.

She is “not daunted, but privileged” to replace Hadlee on the board, the cricketing knight stepping down after four years as a director. He was seen as a staunch advocate of advancing the women’s game.

Puketapu stresses that she didn’t specifically join the board to champion women. “But being a woman, that will come naturally to make sure NZ Cricket keeps on this path,” she says.

“I’m also really passionate about youth staying in sport as long as we can. Women make a lot of decisions about how their children spend their time. To get more juniors into cricket, it wouldn’t hurt to get their mothers enthused about the game.”

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