Ken Borland
Sports Journalist
3 minute read
5 Aug 2022
6:22 pm

The truth behind the retirement of Proteas women’s cricketer Lizelle Lee

Ken Borland

"It’s probably one of the toughest things to hear, saying you’re not able to play for a team because you weigh too much."

Lizelle Lee has quit the Proteas over fitness issues. Picture: Getty Images

Cricket South Africa’s decision to take action against Lizelle Lee had more to do with her lack of all-round fitness than her actual weight, which she misrepresented anyway, CSA insiders have claimed.

Lee shocked the global game on July 8 when she suddenly announced her retirement from international cricket on the eve of the ODI series in England. Her joint statement with CSA, which also had input from the players’ association and her agent, said she felt she had “given everything I could to the Proteas” and “I feel that I am ready for the next phase in my career and will continue to play domestic T20 cricket around the world.”

It subsequently emerged that Lee had retired because CSA had withdrawn her from the tour of England and threatened to not give her a No Objection Certificate (NOC), which would prevent her to play in overseas leagues. The 30-year-old claimed in a BBC podcast last week that this was because she had failed a fitness test because of her weight.

Lizelle Lee in 2016.
Lizelle Lee, seen here in 2016, has played for South Africa since 2013 when she made her ODI and T20 debut. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

‘Weigh too much’

“It was because of the way I look and how much I weigh … If you break it down, I made the fitness but I didn’t make my weight, so they’re dropping me because of my weight. As a woman, that breaks me. It’s probably one of the toughest things to hear, saying you’re not able to play for a team because you weigh too much,” Lee said.

But CSA insiders have told The Citizen that her misrepresentation of her weight was a major issue, and that the organisation was fed up with their continued struggles to get Lee fit.

They have also refuted her claim that she was dropped because of her weight.

Fitness score

According to CSA policy, a player’s fitness is measured via four tests which are allocated points adding up to 10. In order to be declared fit for play, six points are required. A score of four or five will see a player put on probation and retesting will be done. Three points or under leads to the player being declared not fit to play.

The weight part of the test is only worth 2 points, the same as the strength test, while skinfold measurement and the 2km endurance test are worth three points each.

So even if Lee was 5% over her target weight and received zero points in that section, she must have still only earned 3/8 for the other tests.

According to correspondence between CSA and Lee which The Citizen has seen, Lee was allowed to do her pre-England tour testing in Ermelo, and then be retested in England.

Lee did that, but did not have her weight done because she said she had already measured it in the morning and passed on the number to strength and conditioning coach Zane Webster.

On July 5, Proteas manager Sedibu Mohlaba sent Lee an urgent e-mail requesting clarity on what happened with her Ermelo test.

Lee explained and admitted she was “afraid that it might … result in me not being selected. I know now that that was wrong”. 

On July 6, CSA’s Head of Cricket Pathways, Eddie Khoza, e-mailed Lee to tell her she had been withdrawn from the tour for her “failure to meet the fitness standards”. He said they would not grant her an NOC until she had met and maintained the requirements.

‘Not honest with us’

“We tried corrective action, we have bent over backwards for her,” a CSA insider said. “We were prepared to support her through a fitness programme.

“We did not want to demonise her, but now what she is saying is different to the statement which she, SACA and her agent were involved in.

“She was not honest with us, her fitness tests were fraudulently done. She is now trying to embarrass us and has gone rogue.”

Lee’s retirement has robbed the Proteas of one of their few truly world-class players, although she has been in poor form lately, not passing 40 since September 2021.