MCC's historic wait for maidens may soon be over

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The Independent Online
ONE of the oldest and most elitist bodies in world sport will decide today whether to allow women to join its membership. Those familiar with the machinations and outlook of the Marylebone Cricket Club are not optimistic that it will overturn more than two centuries of discrimination.

A meeting tonight at the indoor cricket school at Lord's will hear the result of a ballot on the issue. The MCC committee has recommended that a rule dating back to 1787 be overturned. But with the proposal requiring a two-thirds majority of the club's 18,000 members the feeling is that it will fail, as a similar motion did in 1991 when 2,371 voted for women and 4,727 against.

Roger Knight, the MCC secretary, said: "I'm sure there will be a much larger percentage of the club in favour than there was last time, when only 33 per cent supported a change to the rules."

The exclusion of women was one of the reasons that MCC's application for a pounds 4.5m lottery funding was refused. The money would have helped rebuild the Grandstand at Lord's, which is owned by MCC and is regarded as the game's spiritual home. And a "No" vote would not be welcomed by the game's rulers in Britain, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Their chief executive Tim Lamb said yesterday: "I don't think we would be pleased. We would regard it as unfortunate."

The problem is that although MCC ceded control of the game to the then Test and County Cricket Board 30 years ago, the world at large still views the organisation as being in charge, a perception not helped by the fact that the august body is the guardian of the laws of the game.

Mr Lamb added: "I don't think too much store should be set by a No decision, because although the MCC has a great history and plays a major contribution to the game, it is the ECB which is promoting a modern forward-thinking view of the game and how it should be taken up at all levels."

This poll, like the one in 1991, was sparked by an application from the former England women's captain Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, whose husband Derrick is a member.

Yesterday Mrs Heyhoe-Flint, 58, said: "I'm not very optimistic... I think we might get a majority, but I don't think it will the requisite two-thirds. Having waited seven years since the last time I was naughty enough to apply to become a member I'm not holding out too much hope."

Several high-profile members, such as Tim Rice and Dennis Amiss, have backed the move, but a more traditional view came from Bill Edwards, press officer for Saracens Rugby Club and an MCC member for 23 years. "I'm too old for change and I don't want the upheaval," said Edwards, who at 54 is three years younger than the average MCC member. "Whatever spoon you feed in the sugar with there will always be problems. Look at the House of Lords - there are over 100 women there now and they are putting a bust of Emily Pankhurst in the corner and even setting up creches.

"We don't want any of that. I love the comfort and the escapism, when you can just sit around and chat with the lads. It's purely chauvinist. I know 300 or so members and they all say they are not having bloody women in. Why don't they make their own club? Why invade someone else's territory?"

The popularity of the MCC is such that there is an 18-year waiting list of men wishing to enter this elite male preserve. Anything that could extend that waiting time - and there is little doubt that a vote admitting women would have that very effect - would be as welcome as a flat tonic in their gin.