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Monday, November 29, 2021

How to fix English cricket: Our six-point manifesto for change after racism scandal

Transparency

Tom Harrison, chief executive of the ECB, knows time is short. The ECB will be judged quickly. The commission must issue regular updates, be willing to be scrutinised about its findings through press conferences or broadcast interviews and say this is what we are looking at and what we are doing. It must also be given the power to compel clubs to engage and take steps if things are not moving in the right direction such as publicly naming those not doing enough to comply, which would prompt sponsors to start asking questions. English cricket has a problem with transparency. Officials do not like talking on the record, they often like to bury bad news and hope things blow over. It was Yorkshire’s approach until they were exposed by Rafiq and his skilled PR advisers. 

Seven-year plan

The Rooney Rule is applied in cricket but is really only useful if there is a bottleneck, for example a number of coaches from minority backgrounds hitting a glass ceiling. The problem for cricket is that there are hardly any coaches from those minorities at all. There are not enough of them to cause a bottleneck.

The game needs to commit to a seven-year, long-term strategy to increase the number of coaches from minorities at all levels, which means lowering the costs of coaching programmes (this is already happening in some areas) and promoting the importance of coaching roles in those communities. Its South Asian Action Plan is a good piece of work and making a difference but progress has been slow. Introducing targets for the number of coaches from minorities at junior level first and then spreading those to the professional game in time is the only way change will happen. It is about reducing perceived “whiteness” at higher levels of pathways.

Dr Thomas Fletcher, from Leeds Beckett University, wrote a report about diversity in coaching for the ECB in 2014, which was referenced by MPs on Tuesday, but it turned out Harrison had not read it (even though the board part-funded it). One player told the report: “That’s an issue for me, my colour of skin – I don’t want to go down that route, I’ve had a good time here growing up with the English friends, neighbours, lovely, brilliant, wouldn’t change it – but when it comes to that hierarchy, pushing up, I really feel… compressed, that you want us, you want us involved in the game, just for that box-ticking. I’m very strong on that, and that’s how it is.”

Diversifying leadership

Almost all 18 county chief executives, chairs and head coaches are white men. It is not about positive discrimination and tokenistic appointments at county and ECB level but promoting vacancies through recruitment specialists in areas that cricket does not usually tap into and attracting people who have never considered sport administration was for them.

There need to be more people of colour in leadership positions to stamp out the kind of behaviour at Yorkshire and create environments where people feel able to report racism and have the morale courage to step in and say behaviour is not acceptable.

Wasim Khan, in his role at the National Asian Cricket Council, has been criticised by Rafiq for not taking seriously enough his allegations, but he could play an important leadership role now at the ECB. He is available after leaving the Pakistan Cricket Board and has vast experience of dealing with counties and has spent a career fighting for equality.

A ‘banter’ charter

It is not about bland statements but established rules and punishments in place for abuse or words masked as banter. Dressing rooms need laughter and shared humour but there has to be a zero tolerance to the use of offensive words and dressing-room culture will be changed forever by Rafiq.

It is akin to the BBC having an archive of programmes from the 1970s it would never show now. There are words, jokes and phrases in dressing rooms that would have been tolerated before but must not be again. The disciplinary procedures are already in place; it is about applying them and giving the players’ union proper resources and help to implement education programmes rather than ticking a box.

Restructuring ECB

“The independent regulatory committee holds the ECB to account,” said Meena Botros, ECB head of legal to MPs. He was then asked who appoints the independent regulatory committee? “The ECB,” he said, prompting smirks.

The role of the ECB as regulator and promoter has been an issue in this whole saga. The ECB is a vast organisation running international, domestic and grass-roots cricket. The governance could be decentralised with boards for domestic, international and recreational cricket sitting under a strategic board. There must be a recognition after this that it needs to share the load because it is impossible to provide focused governance in all areas.

It will be the first issue for the new chairman, an appointment that needs to be made quickly, and soon followed by a decision on Harrison’s future.

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