I welcome the conclusions and recommendations of the digital, culture, media and sport committee as well as the clear and succinct language used in its report. It is not a long document, but it suggests the committee means business. I think everyone within cricket, hopefully of whatever race or background, will embrace it as an attempt to make the sport more equal and inclusive.
The England and Wales Cricket Board is instructed to create a “set of key indicators by which they might measure their progress”. These are yet to be defined – last November the ECB published a 12-point action plan to address diversity in the sport, but the wording of the report suggests the committee expects a new list. What these indicators will be, and how the sport’s administrators choose to measure and recognise progress in this area, will determine whether the committee’s work has been successful.
The ECB published a South Asian Action Plan in 2018, and nearly four years on a lot of people would ask whether that was a genuine attempt to improve inclusivity or just an attempt to tap into a new commercial market. When he gave evidence to the DCMS committee Azeem Rafiq described some previous attempts to improve diversity in cricket as “box-ticking” and “tokenism”, and when we look back in a few years’ time what emerges from this process must have been genuinely productive.
The threat to withhold funding will certainly focus minds, and I particularly welcome the expectation that Yorkshire and the ECB will give quarterly reports on their progress – that’s enough time to make a positive impact, but not so much that they will feel able to waste any. Of course this problem is not confined to Yorkshire, and while I am sure that every county is thinking about their structure and their representation, perhaps they could all be expected to give regular progress updates.
Ashley Giles, the managing director of England men’s cricket at the ECB, has spoken in the past about its reliance on the counties in sporting terms, and it is reliant again now. The ECB must work with and try to get the best out of the counties, but in the end if it is to be seen as successful it needs the counties to get their houses in order.
For me there is a cloud that hangs over this report. The DCMS committee is chaired by Julian Knight, the Conservative MP for Solihull, and the majority of its members sit on the government benches. It is their party that created the hostile environment and was responsible for the Windrush scandal – an episode that resonates personally with me as my father came over in 1960. As of the end of last year only 5% of Windrush victims had received compensation.
Knight stands behind a prime minister who writes about black people with “watermelon smiles” and Muslim women as “letterboxes”. His government is led by the same people who organised a deliberately divisive Brexit campaign, has presided over a period when race hate has gone through the roof, and continues to demonise and criminalise refugees who attempt the perilous journey across the Channel in inflatable dinghies. Knight comes across as sincere in his criticism of what has gone on in cricket, but what are his qualifications for sitting in judgment over the commitment of others to the reduction of racial injustice in this country? I feel there is an irony to him leading this committee at this time, and perhaps his party should also demonstrate their own commitment to the fight against racism, and the success or failure of any efforts they have made.
I remember watching Rafiq giving evidence to the committee last year. It was uncomfortable to see, and there was great disappointment in how little progress we have made as a sport. I started in 1987 and here we were in 2021 watching a young man go through that experience. Hopefully it will result in substantive change, and this report will be part of that process. But I also recognise that cricket is part of society, that this is an issue across society, and that most of us, even the members of the DCMS committee, still have a lot of work to do.