Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 24, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home SportGlobal Is English Cricket Institutionally Racist?

Is English Cricket Institutionally Racist?

Following Azeem Rafiq's experiences of racism during his time playing for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Ben Scott discusses English cricket's equality, diversity and inclusion problems.
5 mins read
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Azeem Rafiq (right) bowling for Yorkshire against Hampshire in 2017
Image: Dave Morton, via Wikimedia Commons

Approximately 2.5 billion people follow cricket around the world. Whilst the majority of these fans are found in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, the sport’s origins are credited to England in the late 16th century. Looking at the current geography of the sport, it’s clear that early English colonisation was what brought cricket to the world, but more specifically, the Commonwealth. Australia, South Africa, and India, all Commonwealth members, remain the powerhouses of cricket. The outreach of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to the Commonwealth, however, must be bluntly juxtaposed with the lack of effort put into broadening cricket’s popularity in non-Commonwealth nations. Here, you could say, lies cricket’s initial problem. 

With the addition of Afghanistan to test match-playing nations on the 14th of June in 2018, the pinnacle format of the sport remains an exclusive club with only 12 registered countries. Popularity also seems to be disproportionally grounded in Asia. According to the Federation of International Cricket Associations (FICA), of the estimated 4,200 professional players around the world, India holds 25% (1,031), almost twice as many as the second-ranked country, Sri Lanka, at 12% (509). An expansion of the sport into new nations must be put on the agenda if the sport is to continue to grow. 

From an English outlook, cricket is the traditional “summer sport” and a survey from 2021 suggests 65% of the population follows the game in some way. Arguably the second most followed sport in England behind football, cricket, led by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), is constantly trying to boost its following at home. In July and August of 2021, The Hundred competition was launched, aimed at a new and younger audience. Undoubtedly, the focus here was on inclusivity, with the game being made easier to follow and women’s and men’s matches being played back to back. Despite a successful launch, the 100-ball format struggled to reach its initial viewership in its second year in 2022, with a total of 14.1 million television viewers, down from 16.1 million in the inaugural 2021 tournament. Unfortunately, a dip in viewing figures is but one of the ECB’s problems. 

In November 2021, Azeem Rafiq, a right-arm off-spin bowler who played for the Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2008 and 2014 and 2016 and 2018, accused English cricket of being “institutionally racist”.

In November 2021, Azeem Rafiq, a right-arm off-spin bowler who played for the Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2008 and 2014 and 2016 and 2018, accused English cricket of being “institutionally racist”. Since the claim, a saga of investigations plunged the sport into a deep scandal. It was only 18 months after this, that a verdict was delivered by the Cricket Disciplinary Commission (CDC). Following the same methods as the Rugby Football Union (RFU) when investigating concussion, accusations of self-regulation by the ECB were challenged with the inclusion of three independent commission members: K.C. Mark Milliken-Smith, Tim O’Gorman (Chair), and Dr Seema Patel. 

Essentially, the hearing transcended into a public trial of English cricket’s racism issue. Searching beneath the surface, however, exposes a shambles of claims and counterclaims amongst endless questions and doubt over the ECB’s role as both regulator and investigator. What Rafiq wanted as English cricket on trial, became several cases against eight individual respondents from the Yorkshire CC. 

In the CDC report, the respondents were charged with breaches of ECB Directive 3.3: No such person may conduct himself in a manner or do any act or omission which may be prejudicial to the interests of cricket or which may bring the game of cricket or any Cricketer or group of Cricketers into disrepute.

Seven of the eight charges were upheld, and Rafiq expressed feeling “vindicated” to the BBC with the commission’s verdict. Perhaps importantly, the only charge dropped was against former England Test Captain, Michael Vaughan. Rafiq alleged Vaughan of saying “there’s too many of you lot, we need to have a word about that” to himself and three other Asian Yorkshire players in 2009. As the only respondent to offer a defence, however, the Ashes-winning captain saw the charge against him unproven by the CDC. As a pundit and one of the most highly regarded English captains of all time, the media flocked to report on Vaughan. Media headlines, including the BBC, then focused on the verdict of his spotlighted case, rather than on the others charged with essentially racial prejudice and received fines totalling £37,000.

Potentially a step forward for English cricket in recognising the limits of its inclusivity, Rafiq’s successful accusations are unfortunately recognisable across other sports.

Potentially a step forward for English cricket in recognising the limits of its inclusivity, Rafiq’s successful accusations are unfortunately recognisable across other sports. Any social media user can see footballers subjected to ceaseless racial abuse in post comments. Welsh rugby is in the midst of a sexism scandal. Australian Football League (AFL) too finds itself in racism scandals, with Aboriginal players such as Jamarra Ugle-Hagan resorting to acts on the pitch in response. Most recently, the Boston Marathon is taking steps to ensure runners of colour receive more recognition and feel more welcome in the running community. Sport and racism is clearly a lengthy issue, with much said and not enough done. 

At the end of June, the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) produced a 317-page report which supported Rafiq’s claims. The damning overview stated: The evidence is unequivocal: racism is a serious issue in cricket. Racism, in all its forms, continues to shape the experience of, and opportunities for, many in the game.

In the findings, the ICEC showed that 50% of respondents “experienced discrimination in the previous five years” and that figures were higher for people from ethnically diverse communities: 87% of people with Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage, 82% of people with Indian heritage and 75% of all Black respondents. You can view the full report here.

But what is the ECB doing? The last time a British-born black man made his debut on the English Test side was in 2010 and there are just four non-white women to have ever played for England in any format. Well, the ECB says this is only the elite game and its diversity and inclusivity programmes at the grassroots and younger levels will eventually grow to the summit of the sport. 

What the governing body calls EDI, is centring this approach to remove discrimination in English cricket: The ECB is committed to ensuring cricket is for everyone, connecting communities and improving lives by bringing people together through their shared passion for the sport. We are taking proactive action around equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) to create a game that belongs to us all, now and long into the future.

In order to achieve its goals, the ECB foundations of its EDI plan include actions to: 

  • Empower people to make positive change across cricket 
  • Build diverse teams that reflect the communities they serve
  • Develop inclusive environments where everyone feels welcome and safe
  • Lead with accountability and commitment

With added external pressures, like Azeem Rafiq, English cricket has a duty to ensure the sport is inclusive, and plans like this set out by the ECB, are steps towards that currently comprehendible goal. Globally, the ICC must also endeavour to expand the game’s scope although critics might argue that ensuring inclusivity within the current nations is the immediate priority.

We must also acknowledge that there is a limit to what the organisations can do to combat discrimination, and it is also on the shoulders of players, coaches, and fans from the elite to the grassroots level, to ensure the game is inclusive. Truthfully, we may never know when the sport has achieved complete inclusivity, but perhaps success would be the end of the question.

To view Azeem Rafiq’s emotional testimony to a parliamentary committee, click here.

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