ECB chief says ‘earthquake’ has hit cricket as game-wide action plan published

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Cricket will accept an independent regulator if necessary after the “earthquake” of racism allegations sparked by the Azeem Rafiq case.

The England & Wales Cricket Board on Friday released its action plan for combatting discrimination and chief executive Tom Harrison also revealed the board will undergo a governance review which could see its remit reduced following criticism by MPS of its dual role as a “regulator and promotor” of cricket. He also said the sport could accept an independent regulator if that is what the review recommends just days after a similar idea was put forward for football.

“We had meetings with county chairs yesterday to talk about other items around the role of counties, role of the ECB, whether we should be regulator and national governing body going forward,” he said. “It reflects the changing role of the ECB, the broadening of the governing body over recent years and it is right to go back and work out whether we have the right governance structures given the pressures and uniquely different role the ECB plays now with multiple hats we have to wear overseeing the game.

“If a governance review comes back with a recommendation then you need a very good reason not to go along with that recommendation. It is a complex question. We have a self regulation model at the moment. You may want to move to a hybrid co-regulator model or completely independent regulator model. That is something for that process to debate and understand and we are going to do that in detail because it is very important.”

Harrison said he is “very committed” to remaining as chief executive and is “not going to walk away now” after introducing the action plan to combat criticism of the game’s failure to reach diverse communities and allegations of institutionalised racism in the sport.

“I am so committed to sorting this issue out with the game. We have come up with some urgent and significant action as a result of what has happened and I understand I have the backing of the game and I am very keen and motivated to ensure we provide this welcoming environment across this sport for everybody. I am not going to walk away from that now. 

“I know we are in the dock for words, words, words, blah, blah blah, no action. That kind of thing. What we are trying to say here is a plan that is action oriented but it is not everything. What we have to do is be very visible, make sure we are talking and listening to people.”

The action plan, revealed this week by Telegraph Sport, includes a standardised whistleblowing system, a review of dressing room culture across the professional game, diversity training for all players, coaches and umpires across cricket and diversity targets for coaches and boardroom members. An anti-discrimination unit will be established within six months and the ECB has pledged £5m a year funding for five years. 

“The game has been through an enormous exercise of deep introspection. Sometimes an earthquake can provide the opportunity to accelerate years and years of change in a very quick period of time. Perhaps this has been the shock that enables the game to come together once and for all,” said Harrison.

All 18 counties put out statements of support within minutes of the publication of the ECB’s plan but Jo Stevens MP, the shadow secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said the ECB needs to change its executives to inspire confidence it is serious. “Many of the measures listed should have been in place years ago,” she said. “Players, staff and fans will struggle to have faith in a process which is being overseen by the same people who have stood by for so long. What we need is a proper independent inquiry to encourage victims to come forward for real changes to be made across cricket.”

Julian Knight MP said: “A crucial first step but I’m afraid to say that is all it is. The committee will need to be sure that real change follows and the game properly confronts the numerous claims of racial discrimination which are coming to the fore. The game of cricket is still in the emergency ward.”

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