Saturday, June 25, 2022

Headingley’s overwhelmingly white crowd shows cricket’s diversity problem has not gone away

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The opening day of the third Test between England and New Zealand was watched by a crowd that did not reflect the level of British-Asian involvement in recreational cricket

Lord Patel even featured prominently in an interview with the BBC during Headingley’s lunch break, full of praise for the hard work of his staff, good people working to turn the club around.

HEADINGLEY – Even now, two years after Azeem Rafiq exposed the racist culture at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, the chairman’s mailbox is contaminated with “vile” letters written by racists he believes would interest the police .

He spoke about a new culture based on the basic principles of safety, fairness, respect, equality and dignity. Watch these and you will have a thriving business serving its community. It’s hard to argue against that.

Resistance to change in Yorkshire is expressed through the voices of a few distorted people. Lord Patel requests perspective. The Rafiq affair is reaching its investigative conclusion with historic charges brought against the club and seven people linked to it last week by the Cricket Disciplinary Commission, which is notionally independent of the ECB.

As the CDC is appointed by the ECB, as a separate but related point they may wish to address the role of the governing body in the Yorkshire case.

As the guardian of sport, the ECB cannot be separated from events in Yorkshire. What happened at Headingley happened under his supervision and, moreover, was not confined to a single district.

This is the result of the parliamentary investigation into the Rafiq case. Although the ECB is obliged to provide quarterly updates to convince the government that it has the racism problem under control, there is a feeling that the ECB’s mistakes have not been adequately addressed.

There is still no independent regulator of cricket and some have advocated scrapping the ECB as it no longer serves its purpose.

Yorkshire’s new leadership have already shown a commitment to change that is compelling enough to win back the trust of the authorities and the right to host international matches. Failure to do so would have meant oblivion, according to Lord Patel, as Yorkshire would not be able to pay its players or staff.

“90 to 95 percent of the members and people I meet have thanked you for what you do and have been extremely supportive. I have a small but sizable bag of letters that I believe people would be prosecuted for if I took them to the police. Phenomenally racist.

“We have a very small but very vocal group of people who don’t accept that racism happened at this club. I think we need to move beyond this denial. Racism happens in society. It certainly happened at this club.

“We just saw the gymnastics report. We know what happened in athletics. We know there is misogyny, discrimination, power imbalances, and these things happen. Bad things happened here. It affected our life and made it very difficult for us.

“It is not about me. It’s about all the employees who work tirelessly here and spent a year and a half in the spotlight and a year and a half were abused – partly physically, partly verbally. It’s them and their families and the players. We had to change for the better and I really believe we are doing that.”

Yorkshire does not exist in a vacuum. The dominant culture that led to Rafiq’s ordeal is diverse and widespread. Not every racist is overtly evil, nor are they inherently bad.

Middlesex leader Mike O’Farrell argued that British Asians preferred education to sport and the ‘Afro-Caribbean’ community preferred football and rugby to cricket. He only apologized when the casual racism that characterized his attitude was exposed.

The stands at Headingley on the opening day of the third Test were mostly populated by white Brits.

The most recent census shows that 7.5 per cent of people in Yorkshire identify as British Asians, reflecting the figure across the UK. The figure for white Britons is 85 percent. While there were some Asian origins in the crowd, it did not appear to be representative. Yet recreational cricket figures show that 30 per cent are British Asian. For reasons Rafiq’s experience has uncovered, they do not engage as players, much less as supporters, in the professional game.

That’s the problem Lord Patel is grappling with. On a positive note, he reported a 60 percent acceptance rate among children engaging with the new pathways being established in local communities. It’s a start. Lord Patel cannot hope to succeed alone. If racism is present in cricket it is because it is present in us.

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