Women have to face challenges in cricket that males do not, due to their health issues. These challenges include the management of menstruation diseases, endometriosis, RED-S, and other conditions.
Bernadine Bezuidenhout, a wicketkeeper-batter of the New Zealand team, was diagnosed with RED-S in 2018. She had the disease for a decade and was out for two years. RED-S is a combination of low energy, menstruation dysfunction, and low bone density in female athletes. It can affect metabolic rate, hormones, immunity, and cardiovascular health, and can be fatal or lifelong. Bezuidenhout was eating 1000 calories a day and burning 5000, and needed to gain weight to return to professional sports.
She moved from South Africa to New Zealand and was fighting for a spot within the team, so she kept quiet and just push through things. As a female athlete, she loved not having her period, but it was something she kept from herself for a long time. Project RED-S and Kyniska Advocacy, two athlete-led organizations that raise awareness, prevent, and support RED-S, found that more than a third of UK female athletes intentionally ignored missed periods because they thought it was normal for active people to miss periods, and 19% thought it would improve their performance. Female athletes face many problems, including Endometriosis, Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD), and menorrhagia. Elite female athletes often have PCOS, an endocrine disease that affects health.
Women who exercise often have menorrhagia, which causes iron deficiency and anemia. Due to the stressors of sports, athletes of both genders are more likely to develop eating problems than the general population. The Sports Journal said that social pressures and weight culture make female athletes vulnerable.
Women cricketers, especially in India, are more fitness-conscious now than when they started working in 2009, but societal pressures are at play. Women are more likely than men to suffer Anterior-Cruciate Ligament injuries during the ovulation phase (typically day 14) of their menstrual cycle due to fatigue, low energy, and hormonal changes.
Dr. Shuaib Manjra, Cricket South Africa’s chief medical doctor, believes that having female doctors or physios on the backroom staff can help players speak freely about their health issues. In places like the Indian subcontinent, where menstruation is taboo, players are reluctant to approach male staff. Menstrual-cycle-tracking apps help women’s sports, and many sports organizations now employ cycle monitoring to manage each player’s menstrual cycle demands.
Dr. Manjra believes that research on specific injuries are more common in women’s cricket, injury rates, DSD (Differences of Sexual Development), effects of menstrual cycle in performance, psychological elements, nutrition, fitness standards, etc. should be conducted. Cycle tracking, using apps and digital wearables, helps athletes better understand their bodies and tailor their training and performance to their needs.
Work capacity and strength are at a high during the follicular phase, which begins with menstruation and lasts 14 days until ovulation. Logging the length and other details of a sportsperson’s most recent cycle allows them to tailor their training and performance to their needs. Cricket Australia, New Zealand Cricket, and the South Africa women’s team trainer track players’ periods. Dr. Manjra believes cycle monitoring helps athletes, team physicians, physios, and trainers discover underlying conditions like fibroids or endometriosis. Bezuidenhout emphasizes health awareness and information.
The ICC held menstruation workshops for all teams at this year’s women’s Under-19 and T20 World Cups in South Africa to normalize the topic and teach athletes how to perform better on their periods. The Simply Sport Foundation is educating young athletes at various academies in India, their coaches, and parents about menstrual health.
The workshops focus on communication, transparency, and normalization. Aditi Mutatkar, a former Indian national badminton player, wants young female athletes to not hide their period issues and practice like males. Women have distinct hormones, eat differently, and digest food differently, and the effort is not just about periods; it’s about creating a resource that trains girls like girls.
In 2021, England batter Tammy Beaumont told the Telegraph that it was a “daunting prospect” to play a Test match on her period. Women cricketers don’t have to wear whites as often as men, so senior squad members campaigned to change the England women’s football team’s shorts from white to blue last April.
In 2022, Wimbledon relaxed its all-white dress code for women, allowing them to wear dark undershorts under their skirts or shorts. International cricket women seldom wear white, but when they do, it can be troublesome if they are on their periods. South Africa fast bowler Shabnim Ismail suggests wearing tights underneath their clothes and having extra clothing in their bag.
South Africa fast bowler Shabnim Ismail is grateful for the help of a nutritionist, strength and conditioning coach, physiotherapist, and Lesley Nicol, who helped Bezuidenhout play cricket again after a two-year sabbatical. “I felt like I summited the peak,” she says.