The UK government has been urged to cut English cricket’s funding unless the England and Wales Cricket Board can prove it is serious about tackling the “deep-seated racism” that exists across the whole sport.
That is the damning recommendation of a parliamentary inquiry into racism that concludes cricket’s problem is not only “endemic” but the governing body has known about it and failed to properly act.
The 13-page report by the digital, culture, media and sport select committee also praises the former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq, who spoke so bravely about the shocking abuse he suffered in November, but says his testimony must now lead to real change.
It has ordered the ECB to provide parliament with quarterly updates on its plans to tackle racism and says unless there is sustained progress the £2.2m the ECB receives each year from Sport England for the grassroots game could be at risk.
“We recommend that the government ensures that any future public funds for cricket are dependent on continuous, demonstrable progress in getting rid of racism in both the dressing rooms and in the stands,” it states. “We recommend that the ECB board develop a set of key indicators by which they might measure their progress and then report to us on those indicators every quarter.”
The report follows the staggering evidence given to the committee by Rafiq, who laid bare the racism, bullying and “inhuman” treatment he faced over a number of years at Yorkshire – along with the club’s and the ECB’s failure to adequately respond.
The MPs describe Rafiq’s testimony as “convincing” and say they agree with his conviction “that this was not simply a personal issue but an endemic problem across the whole of cricket”. “The language used in correspondence received by members of our committee subsequent to the evidence session with Azeem, and the manner in which stories were run in the press to discredit Azeem, further establish, to us, that eradicating racism from the game will be a long and difficult road,” they add.
The report was welcomed by Rafiq, who said it was “brilliant” that the ECB and Yorkshire were being held to account but agreed they needed to be given the chance to show they were making progress. “The DCMS committee has listened and taken sensible action,” he added.
“This shows just how seriously politicians are taking an issue that too many people in cricket ignored for so long. The committee understands how important it is to clean up the game. The ECB and Yorkshire need to be given the chance to do the right thing and I’m encouraged by Lord Patel’s work since he was appointed chair at YCCC.”
There has been surprise in some quarters about the report’s threat to cut funding given that much of it goes on helping children in deprived areas. However the ECB’s interim chair, Barry O’Brien, said the game’s governing body accepted the broad thrust of the report and promised to rebuild trust in the sport.
“We embrace the ongoing scrutiny of the committee and all those that love the game of cricket who will be watching closely as we undertake the continuous, demonstrable progress in eradicating racism from the dressing room and from the stands,” he said. “We are determined to root out racism – and other forms of discrimination – from our sport.
“We look forward to updating the committee on the progress the whole game is making in delivering the 12-point Action Plan agreed in November to bring about the meaningful change we all want to see,” he added. “We are deeply sorry for the pain people have suffered and recognise the courage it has taken to speak out.”
That message was echoed by Lord Patel, now chair at Yorkshire. “Azeem Rafiq’s testimony was a watershed moment for the sport as a whole, and we are committed to ensuring that no one endures the unacceptable experience that he did at Yorkshire County Cricket Club,” he said.
“In the last two months Yorkshire has made significant progress in our efforts to rebuild but we are only at the start of this long and important journey.”
Meanwhile, a DCMS spokesman noted that there had been “encouraging progress” in recent weeks. But he also warned: “There is no place for discrimination in society and we want to see clear and sustained evidence of cultural change in the sport.”
The CEO of Sport England, Tim Hollingsworth, struck a similar tone as he urged the ECB, the counties, and other cricketing stakeholders to reform and take “action to end structural racism in the sport”. “Sport England’s funding is explicitly linked to the development and implementation of robust diversity and inclusion policies,” he said. “We have made that clear to the ECB, who have responded positively and constructively.
“Azeem Rafiq’s powerful and personal testimony to the committee shows us that ultimately, the litmus test of progress will be the lived experiences of diverse communities and their involvement in the game. Until experiences like Azeem’s are eradicated, the work to defeat racism in sport must continue.”