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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

What the experts want from the ECB’s 12-point plan for cricket’s racism crisis

A 12-point plan compiled by cricket authorities in the wake of the Azeem Rafiq racism crisis will be announced on Thursday, 24 hours later than initially expected as counties have yet to agree on a deadline for making their boards more diverse.

Here, Telegraph Sport asks key experts on the sport’s crisis for their ideas on what the England and Wales Cricket Board should be including:

Tackle culture – do not just set targets

Leaked details from a meeting of counties last week suggest the plan will include new black and Asian recruitment targets of 30 per cent in board positions and 20 per cent in coaching roles. However, Dr Thomas Fletcher, whose research at Leeds Beckett University on South Asian communities in cricket was cited before MPs last week, says longer-term research is also needed.

“I don’t object to having 12 points,” said Fletcher. “They are absolutely valid as we need diversity on boards and in coaching roles, etc. However, my concern when it comes to targeting in this respect is that just because you have greater diversity, that doesn’t mean that the culture of the game changes. You can have great diversity but the culture might still reinforce racial or gender-based so-called ‘banter’. Representation doesn’t directly mean that they’re going to get a good experience. You need to create a culture whereby communities feel welcome and legitimate in those roles.”

Coming just a week after Rafiq had given evidence to MPs, Fletcher suggests it may still be too early to be clear on what the game needs. “I would like to think that there is still an opportunity to say we’re going to go away and we’re going to learn more,” he added. “Once you find out what the issues are, then you could work to create things that are fit for purpose. At the minute, the ECB plans look good in theory, but are they fit for purpose? We don’t know. Because I don’t think we really understand the nature and the extent of the problem.”

Get anti-racism charities front and centre

Monty Panesar, former English international left-arm spinner who made his Test debut in 2006, says more involvement for the likes of Show Racism The Red Card is key in showing the game means business.

However, he also calls for cool heads amid the current furore to ensure “the spirit of the dressing room” is not lost completely. “I remember some of the games we won for England, and we’d sometimes spend all night in a dressing room, just having fun,” he said. “We’re talking about the Test match, talking about the dismissal, or the misfields, or that dropped catch. We need to stamp out racism, but you don’t want it to be a place where you’re not allowed to have any sort of banter. Maybe we need a bit more conversation on that. Let’s not completely lose the spirit of a dressing-room environment.”

Win over the sceptics

John Holder, the former international umpire who dropped a legal claim of institutional racism against the ECB earlier this year, says nothing will change until cricket in England drops its status as “a gentleman’s game and remembers it reflects society just like any sport”.  

“I actually don’t think we need another plan because I don’t believe any of the fine words that the ECB speaks,” he said. Holder, 76, who last stood as an international umpire in 2001, stands by his own claims of “institutional racism”, which the ECB was forced to deny in June.  

“The ECB seems to be an organisation that has to be dragged screaming and bawling to do anything,” he said. “There’s no point in me suggesting what should be in the 12-point plan because the ECB has made these sorts of statements before. All I can say is I am very sceptical.”

Keep the whistleblower hotline open permanently

Azeem Rafiq, the man who blew the scandal wide open, is declining to comment until he has seen the plan, but friends of his say he is a champion for the ongoing use of the whistleblowing hotline across cricket. He said last week he believes “hundreds and thousands” of cricketers could follow his lead by sharing experiences of racism. “I do feel it’s going to be a little bit of ‘floodgates’ and a lot of victims of abuse are going to come forward,” he added.

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