Cricket and Conservatism: all too cosy bedfellows

Azeem Rafiq played professional cricket in England for Yorkshire County Cricket Club. In September 2020, Rafiq made accusations of racism and bullying in Yorkshire. An independent report found that a number of his accusations were true and the case became a major media story in the United Kingdom. It led to several resignations at the club and was the subject of investigations by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the British parliament. (Photo: Dave Morton. The image is made available by its copyright holder under the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark 1.0.)

English (and Welsh) cricket, in the aftermath of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC), has been in the midst’s of an existential crisis. As the Report highlighted, the game is not simply elitist and racist, it is sexist, homophobic and classist.

While many within the game – most notably life peer and Chairman of Durham CCC, Sir Ian Botham OBE, and the old Etonian ex-commentator Henry Blofeld OBE – questioned the validity of ICEC’s findings, t-he evidence of more than 4000 victims, witnesses, journalists and researchers not only vindicated those who had long called-out discrimination (in its various forms), it forced the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to make an unreserved apology to all those who have suffered discrimination (this included the Black British community as a whole).

The sad fact is – cricket is discriminatory. Accordingly, there have been widespread calls for greater equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives (mostly training), a re-direction of funding towards marginalised groups, and increasing access to cricket in state schools or those who attend them.

The scale of the task to make cricket Britain’s ‘most inclusive sport’ will require both significant investment from the ECB and some form of government intervention. And yet, past performance suggests they are unlikely to succeed given the ECB, it’s administrative antecedents’ the Test and County Cricket Board and the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), and successive governments that sold thousands of playing fields since 1981, have been responsible for making cricket an ever more ‘exclusive’ and elitist sport.

More of a concern – even if we overlook Botham and Blofeld’s myopic antipathy – is the fact that many of the ECB’s top administrators, who oversaw the discrimination highlighted by the ICEC (including the high-profile case of Azeem Rafiq), are in charge of rectifying matters at a time when government ministers, such as Home Secretary Suella Braverman, do not simply regard EDI initiatives as ‘woke’, claim to have ’begun the task of clearing out this pernicious nonsense’.

Ideology aside, a new era of austerity, and the ECB’s ‘all-in’ gamble on a new format called The Hundred, would suggest money is too scarce to achieve the ICEC’s 44 Recommendations. And yet, the money spent on The Hundred (£180 million over 4 years), exceeds the ‘top end estimate’ of £150 million required to enact them all.

It would seem obvious to most that addressing discrimination will always do more to ‘grow the game’ than inventing a fourth format. Or that doing more than, in the words of the MCC’s new president, the public school (Bradfield College) educated commentator Mark Nicholas, waiting for some form of ’natural osmosis’ to occur before ending the inherently elitist Eton v Harrow matches at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

As revealed in ’Different Class’, this inability to make pro-active decisions for the good of the game, because they may upset or disturb the privileges’ of an elite minority, is typical of the game’s administration over the last century. Moreover, this behaviour explains why the recommendations of previous reports (‘Anyone for Cricket?’ of 1998, and the ECB’s own Report of 1999, ‘Clean Bowl Racism’) that followed Mike Marqusee’s establishment-rattling ’Anyone but England’ (1994) have never been enacted.

Given similar issues with racism were exposed in Scottish cricket earlier this year, and the gross underrepresentation of South Asians in professional cricket, it is clear the game in the United Kingdom has major issues. It does not, however, have another 30 years to deal with them.

While the game’s administrators can do little about society as a whole. They could, at least, get their own house in order. Except it is clear the game will be more popular, and representative of the game’s constituency, if those who continue to hold the game back, in their own self-interests, are either removed or the ECB distances itself from the game’s elitist history and culture and institutions.

Copyright © Dr Duncan Stone 2023


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