Sunday, January 16, 2022

English cricket could lose funding if it doesn’t deal with the racism crisis

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The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has urged the Government to withhold future public funding for English cricket if there is no progress in tackling racism within sport.

In a report titled ‘Racism in Cricket’, based on the findings of the November 16 DCMS meeting at which Azeem Rafiq spoke for about two hours about his experience of racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, the committee reiterated its Dismay at Rafiq’s testimony and subsequent evidence was shared. Among many conclusions drawn was that “anyone involved with cricket should have been aware of the underlying racism throughout the game”.

The report is particularly damning for the England and Wales Cricket Board, citing that “governance within sport has failed in a fundamental way”. It also includes excerpts from a letter from Sport Minister Nigel Huddleston, who said the government would review the “progress and leadership of the ECB on this matter” and stand ready to take action if it identified a lack of adequate exercise.

“We are, like the Minister, closely monitoring and intend to ensure that Cricket cleans up its act,” said the report, which was ratified by the 11 MPs sitting on the committee, including DCMS Chair Julian Knight. “We recommend that the Government ensure that all future public funding for cricket is conditional on continued, demonstrable progress in eliminating racism both in the dressing rooms and in the stands.”

A key recommendation for the ECB is to identify key indicators by which to measure this progress and report quarterly to the government. The first phase will be in early 2022 when the ECB as well as Yorkshire will have to demonstrate what measures and actions have been taken.

So far, the ECB has set up the Independent Cricket Justice Commission, which has been inundated with thousands of complaints relating to all 18 districts. It also stripped Yorkshire of the right to host big games until certain conditions are met by spring. The club has also laid off 16 staff including cricket director Martyn Moxon and first-team coach Andrew Gale. New chairman Lord Kamlesh Patel settled a labor tribunal with Rafiq and then set up a whistleblowing hotline at the club.

Huddleston’s excerpts also mention the prospect of an independent cricket starter, which was raised by the committee in November. Even if he doesn’t think it’s necessary at the moment – “I think that sport should be given every opportunity to manage its own affairs wherever possible,” he didn’t rule out this for the future.

“If other measures do not result in meaningful change, this remains an option that I will consider as part of a broader set of governance and regulatory options,” he said.

In response to the report, Barry O’Brien, interim Chair of the ECB, commented: “We welcome the Committee’s recommendations and the focus of Julian Knight and Committee members on achieving real change.

“We also welcome the ongoing scrutiny from the Committee and all those who love the game of cricket will be watching closely as we make the continued, demonstrable progress in eradicating racism from the dressing room and from the stands. We are determined to eradicate racism – and other forms of discrimination – from our sport.

“We look forward to updating the committee on the progress the entire game is making in implementing the 12-point action plan agreed in November to bring about the meaningful changes we all want to see. We agree that sharing regular public updates on our progress is important to restore confidence in our sport.

“We had already taken important steps to make cricket more inclusive in recent years – including our 2018 South Asia Action Plan, our 2019 Inspiring Generations strategy to make cricket a game for all and the introduction of the independent Cricket Justice Commission early 2021 – – However, we recognize that more needs to be done.

“We deeply regret the pain people have endured and acknowledge the courage it has taken to speak out. By working with the game to implement the action plan, and by continuing to listen and learn from people’s experiences, we are committed to making cricket a stronger and more welcoming sport.”

Rafiq also welcomed the findings and recommendations. In August 2020, he first went public with his claims during an interview with Wisden.com. The report expressed concern at how things have developed since then, particularly Yorkshire’s independent report, which confirmed some of Rafiq’s claims but decided to take no action. “It was inconceivable to us that despite the allegations of racial discrimination, the club offered nothing more than a heartfelt apology.”

Rafiq said in his own statement: “The DCMS committee has listened and taken reasonable action. It is absolutely brilliant that Julian Knight and his colleagues on the committee are going to hold the ECB accountable every quarter. This shows how seriously politicians take an issue that too many people in cricket have ignored for so long. The committee understands the importance of cleaning up the game.

“The proposed additional hearing, at which the ECB and Yorkshire Country Cricket Club must provide evidence of their progress, is also good news. They must be given the chance to do the right thing and I have been encouraged by Lord Patel’s work since he was appointed Chair of the YCCC.

“I am glad that MEPs will monitor all progress so that the reforms needed to make sport inclusive for all young people can be implemented soon.”

This is another step in vindication for Rafiq, who had carried the burden of this ordeal squarely on his shoulders. Most tellingly, the committee took note of the backlash against Rafiq, expressed both towards them as members and among the general public.

Stories emerged that forced the 30-year-old to accept his own shortcomings, including historic anti-Semitic tweets in 2011 that prompted an unreserved apology. It showed how difficult a broader change in cricket will be, not just at the dressing room and administrative levels.

“The language used in the correspondence members of our committee received after the evidence with Azeem Rafiq and the manner in which stories were circulated in the press to discredit Azeem provide us with further evidence that the extermination of racism will be a long and difficult road. It does not matter whether a whistleblower is of impeccable moral character, but whether the issue raised is legitimate.”

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