Former Test umpire John Holder sues ECB for alleged racial discrimination

The former Test umpire John Holder is suing the England and Wales Cricket Board for alleged racial discrimination. Holder lodged his claim at the London central office of the employment tribunal two days before Christmas.

Holder is the most notable Black British umpire in English cricket. The legal action against the ECB relates to his employment as a first‑class umpire between 1983 and 2009. Holder umpired in 11 Tests but was dropped from the ECB’s Test match list in 1991, a few weeks after he reported an incident of alleged ball-tampering by an England player in a Test against West Indies at the Oval.

Holder and his related claimant Ismail Dawood, a former first-class cricketer and reserve umpire, are seeking compensation and a recommendation on the ECB’s future conduct under s.123 (3) (b) of the 2010 Equality Act.

The grounds for the action are Holder’s claim that he was “discriminated against on the grounds of race”, a devastating allegation at a time when the ECB is once again struggling to widen its access and representation.

The last state-educated Black cricketer to make a Test debut for England was Michael Carberry in 2010. Carberry has also spoken out on institutional racism in English cricket, sparking a round of introspection over the summer.

Before becoming an umpire Holder played county cricket for Hampshire as a medium-pace bowler. He left his employment as an ECB umpire at the statutory retirement age 11 years ago and is outside the time limit for a claim under employment law. His solicitors have requested a special interest exception because the alleged discrimination is continuing and because there is a public interest in seeing it resolved.

Last month Holder and Dawood called for a QC-led inquiry into the fact the ECB umpires department has not appointed a single non-white umpire to the ECB’s full-time panel in 28 years. The claim states the ECB has also never appointed a non-white pitch liaison officer, cricket liaison officer, match referee or umpires’ coach.

The case papers dig into the ECB’s history on race. Two years after its formation in 1997 the ECB produced its own report, entitled “Racial Equality in Cricket”, which stated 58% of those consulted believed racism existed in English cricket. At the time the ECB chief executive Tim Lamb said: “Complacency on racial equality is not acceptable. We must open our doors to everyone and ensure that all cricketers and those associated with the game are treated with respect and given every opportunity to participate in or support the game.”

Ismail Dawood keeping wicket for Yorkshire. He played for four first-class counties and two minor counties.

Ismail Dawood keeping wicket for Yorkshire. He played for four first-class counties and two minor counties. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

The ECB promised a range of measures, from structural changes to a new anti-racism PR campaign, complete with “anti-racism logo” and the motto “Clean Bowl Racism”. Dawood and Holder submit that the ECB has “systematically failed to adopt these recommendations”.

Part of the “compelling public interest considerations” detailed for the tribunal’s consideration is the ECB’s use of public money, allegedly while failing to follow its own recommendations on diversity. The claim suggests the ECB has received more than £60m from Sport England between 2009 and 2017, and that a key requirement of the funding should be that the board increases diversity in cricket. The claim asserts: “During this period the ECB have failed to appoint any individuals from a BAME background for 28 years in their umpiring department.”

The former England fast bowler Devon Malcolm, who is not part of the claim, is alleged to have been “dissuaded” by the ECB from moving into umpiring after retirement, while other ex-pros were appointed.

International umpires have all been appointed by the International Cricket Council since 2002. Holder himself applied for a role as an ECB mentor after he retired in 2009, and says he did not receive a response.

Dawood submits that from his first application to the ECB for an umpiring role he “received a negative response”, while “a white ex-player went straight from playing to umpiring”. Despite being rated as “technically” sound Dawood was passed over for promotion from the reserve umpire list. Dawood’s evidence will also submit that the term “Paki” was used in a meeting and then ignored by the managers at the ECB.

Holder and Dawood state in their claim that they are open to settlement by mediation. The Guardian understands the ECB has agreed to this in principle. A mediator is yet to be agreed.

An ECB spokesperson said: “We are not aware of the detail of this claim from John Holder and are therefore unable to comment upon it. The ECB is absolutely committed to ensuring there is no place for discrimination, of any kind, in our sport.

“As with all areas of our game, we want our match officials to represent and reflect everyone who supports and plays cricket. Therefore, in November we announced that we would re‑evaluate the way in which we attract, develop and performance manage our match officials, in order to increase the diversity of our officiating, inspire the next generation of umpires and match referees and ensure a culture of inclusivity and fairness throughout.

“Aligned with this process, we have been arranging to meet with John Holder and others to listen to their experiences so as to better inform our future approach to recruiting and developing umpires and match officials.”


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