The UK government has been urged to cut funding for English cricket unless the England and Wales Cricket Board can prove it is serious about tackling the “deep-rooted racism” found throughout the sport.
This is the urgent recommendation of a Parliamentary Inquiry into Racism which concluded that the problem of cricket is not only “endemic” but that the Board of Directors have become aware of it and failed to act properly.
The 13-page report by the Commission on Digital, Culture, Media and Sports also paid tribute to former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafeeq, who spoke bravely about the horrific abuse he suffered in November, but says his testimony must now lead to real change.
It has ordered the ECB to provide Parliament with quarterly updates on its plans to tackle racism and says that unless there is continued progress the £2.2m the ECB receives each year from Sport England for the popular game could be at risk.
“We recommend that the government ensure that any future public funds for cricket are dependent on demonstrable continued progress in eliminating racism both in the dressing rooms and in the stands,” the report said. “We recommend that the ECB Governing Council develop a set of key indicators by which they can measure their progress and then report back to us on these indicators every quarter.”
The report follows the startling evidence Rafik presented to the committee, which revealed the racism, bullying and “inhuman” treatment he faced over several years in Yorkshire – along with the failure of the club and the European Central Bank to respond appropriately.
MPs describe Rafiq’s testimony as “convincing” and say they agree with his conviction “that this is not just a personal issue but an endemic problem throughout cricket”. “The language used in the correspondence our committee members received after the proof session with Azim, and the way stories were reported in the press to discredit Azim, also assures us that eliminating racism from the game would be a long and difficult road,” they add.
Rafeeq welcomed the report, who said it was “fantastic” that the ECB and Yorkshire were being held accountable, but agreed they needed to be given the opportunity to show they were making progress. “The DCMS has listened and taken reasonable measures,” he added.
This shows how seriously politicians take an issue that has been ignored by many in cricket for so long. The committee understands how important it is to clean up the game. The ECB and Yorkshire need to be given the opportunity to do the right thing and I am encouraged by Lord Patel’s work since he was appointed head of the YCCC.”
There was surprise in some quarters about the report’s threat to cut funding given that much of it continues to help children in disadvantaged areas. However, the interim president of the European Central Bank, Barry O’Brien, said the game’s governing body accepted the overall thrust of the report and promised to rebuild confidence in the sport.
“We embrace the constant scrutiny of the committee and all those who love cricket who will be watching closely as we make consistent, demonstrable progress in eliminating racism from the dressing room and from the stands,” he said. “We are determined to eradicate racism – and other forms of discrimination – from our sport.
“We look forward to keeping the committee updated on the progress the whole game is making in delivering the 12-point action plan agreed in November to bring about the meaningful change we all want to see.” “We deeply regret the pain people have experienced and appreciate the courage you took to speak up.”
This message was echoed by Lord Patel, the current president of Yorkshire. “Azeem’s companion’s testimony was a watershed moment for the sport as a whole, and we are committed to ensuring that no one endures the unacceptable experience they have had at Yorkshire County Cricket Club,” he said.
“In the past two months Yorkshire has made significant progress in our rebuilding efforts but we are still at the beginning of this long and important journey.”
Meanwhile, a DCMS spokesperson noted that there has been “encouraging progress” in recent weeks. But he also warned: “There is no place for discrimination in society and we want to see clear and sustainable evidence of cultural change in sport.”
Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth took a similar tone as he urged the European Central Bank, provinces and other cricket stakeholders to reform and take “action to end structural racism in sport”. “Sport England funding is clearly linked to the development and implementation of strong diversity and inclusion policies,” he said. We made this clear to the European Central Bank, which responded positively and constructively.
“The powerful and personal testimony given by a great comrade before the committee shows us that ultimately, the true test of progress will be the lived experiences of the diverse communities and their participation in the game. Until experiences such as that of a great are eradicated, work to defeat racism in sport must continue.”