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.
Take up offers from the experts for free training
Hope Not Hate, the campaign group that has rallied behind Rafiq for the past year, has yet to hear back from the ECB after offering to include the governing body in its new initiative, Run Racism Out. “This training will be free to all major county clubs who are interested in signing up,” the campaign group has said.
Involve victims in the process
Yorkshire say they want to wait until the plan has been published before commenting, but Lord Patel, the new Yorkshire chairman, this week underlined the importance of involving racism victims in the process of restoring trust. “Only through committing to listen, and to believe, those who have bravely shared their experiences – and those still to do so – can we truly understand the scale of the issue,” he said.
Essex ‘a white man’s world where brown people were outsiders’, claims former player Jahid Ahmed
Another former Essex player of Asian heritage has come forward to allege racist abuse, claiming a team-mate asked him if he was “going to bomb the club”.
Jahid Ahmed says he came to “dread” going to work as he was routinely mocked over his accent and even compared to a terrorist by players and some of the coaching staff.
“We had a senior coach who I felt bullied me,” Jahid told the Cricketer website in relation to his alleged treatment in 2007. “I saw certain components in his behaviour which I felt were discriminatory. So sometimes young players coming into the environment would try and fit in by joining in with that sort of chat.”
Jahid, who believes he was the first British-born cricketer of Bangladeshi heritage to play county cricket, said he was compared to a terrorist when “I was in the dressing room with three players and a coach”.
“One of the guys was younger than me,” Jahid added. “He was new to the team. But he felt the way to fit in was to pick on the Muslim. So he kept saying things like: ‘Would you bomb us?’ And do you know what? He was kind of right because those other players and the coach laughed and he was seen as a great lad.”
Jahid claims one of his coached also used to put on an exaggerated Asian accent and joking about terrorism. “Every day I would come into the club and try to avoid their attention,” Jahid says. “But I dreaded it. I was always fearing what they would come up with. It made it incredibly hard to concentrate on my cricket… I wanted to change my voice. I tried to deepen it. I really wanted to fit in. But there were times when pretty much everyone in the dressing room joined in the laughter at my expense. It was basically: ‘you’re a Muslim; you’re a terrorist.’ At other times, a senior player told me I was a ‘curry muncher’ and said I ‘stank of curry’. It was bullying. And it went on every day until I finished playing.”
Jahid, who is now working as a coach for Platform cricket in south east London, also claimed the club insisted on him attending a team meeting in the pub during Ramadan. “I was fasting and I really didn’t want to go,” he added. “But they insisted. I never drank alcohol and wouldn’t say I felt pressurised to do so. I knew, being a Muslim, I would miss out on things. But I accepted that…. This is why what Azeem Rafiq has done is so important. It opened our eyes. It inspired us. What he has done is so important and is the reason I’m talking to you now. We’ve allowed these things to go on too long. It has to stop now.”
The Cricketer reports that at least one of his alleged abusers remains active in the county system. Another has moved to a different club in a coaching role. Cricketing authorities have been alerted to the case.
Jahid says he has since received support from Grant and Andy Flower, Ryan ten Doeschate, Darren Gough and James Foster. The allegations are the latest in a slew of racism claims to hit Essex in recent weeks. Last week, former England Lions seamer Maurice Chambers said he was called a “f—— monkey”, taunted with bananas and forced to listen to discriminatory jokes while playing for the club.
Of the claims outlined by Jahid, Essex chief executive, John Stephenson, said: “I am disheartened to learn of these new historic racial allegations from a former player about several of his ex-team-mates and a previous member of staff. The allegations reported to The Cricketer make difficult reading and they will be treated and investigated with the utmost seriousness.
“I have reached out to him to offer him our full support, and I hope he feels encouraged and comfortable enough to be a part of our imminent investigation. At the end of last week, we announced that the club will be working with Katharine Newton QC to focus on these allegations which have recently come to light.
“Ms Newton specialises in employment and discrimination cases and has widespread experience covering an extensive range of issues. Having someone of this stature looking into these allegations will allow us to complete a thorough and detailed independent investigation.”