England women turn professional
England's dual Ashes-winning women's team is to become fully professional thanks to a national funding boost made available following an overhaul of administration in world cricket.
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The England and Wales Cricket Board has announced women's cricket and development of the sport in "inner city areas" will both receive extra investment.
Charlotte Edwards' team, who won the Ashes in Australia this winter and at home last summer too, will therefore be able to play as full-time professionals for the first time.
ECB chairman Giles Clarke hopes they will become the "best-paid sportswomen" in this country; Edwards herself tweeted her delight at a day she never thought would come during her career, and Minister for Sport Helen Grant greeted the "significant financial commitment".
Clarke said: "The success of the England women's team was a real bright spot during an otherwise disappointing winter.
"Over successive years, the women's team have produced not only excellent results but have also been outstanding role models for a generation of girls and women who have been inspired to take up the game.
"These pay rises are significant - and as a result, we are proudly creating the first group of full-time women's professional cricketers.
"We hope that they will become some of the best-paid sportswomen in Britain - certainly the best in British women's team sports."
Edwards' team prevailed over Australia in a multi-format series, contrasting sharply with the fortunes of England's men's team this winter.
Edwards wrote on Twitter: "Thanks everyone for all your support. Today is a day I never thought I'd see in my time as a player!"
The ECB approved the measures at a board meeting this week, in anticipation of a significantly increased budget once recommendations are implemented by the International Cricket Council after last weekend's controversial policy changes.
A statement read: "In a ground-breaking decision by the ECB directors, it was agreed that a portion of the increased revenues ECB are likely to receive from future ICC events should be re-invested in urban areas and the women's game.
"Under these proposals the England women's team will receive a major pay rise and also a bonus following their Ashes success in Australia this winter."
Grant added: "I share the ECB's desire to see cricket grow and I welcome this significant financial commitment directed at both the women's game and at developing facilities in our inner cities.
"Sport generally, and cricket specifically, appeals to people right across the country - and it is excellent news that the ECB are acting to improve access and revive interest in cricket in our urban centres."
Opposition Minister for Sport Clive Efford congratulated the ECB on its exemplary policy.
"Cricket is showing the way to other sport governing bodies with their investment - and by creating a professional team of elite women cricketers, they will inspire a new generation young women to play in the future," he said.