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Racism and sexism infects English cricket, an impartial file unearths

Racism, sexism and class-based discrimination continue to infect English cricket, an independent commission has found.

A long-awaited report into the state of the sport was published on Tuesday by the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket, known as the ICEC. Among its findings, racism was “entrenched” in the English game, women were treated as “second-class citizens,” and cricket was a rare option in state schools.

Then, if anybody wanted to complain about the problems, the ICEC says the system was confusing and not fit for purpose.

England and Wales Cricket Board chair Richard Thompson issued a public apology and described the report as a “wake up call.”

“I apologize unreservedly to anyone who has ever been excluded from cricket or made to feel like they don’t belong,” Thompson said. “Powerful conclusions within the report also highlight that for too long women and Black people were neglected. We are truly sorry for this.”

English cricket was rocked in 2020 when former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq said he was a victim of racial harassment and bullying through two spells at the nation’s most successful club from 2008-18.

During a tearful testimony at a parliamentary hearing in 2021, he spoke of the Islamophobia and bullying he was subjected to.

“Do I believe I lost my career to racism? Yes, I do,” Rafiq said at the hearing.

The ICEC received more than 4,000 submissions from people at all levels. Half said they experienced discrimination in the previous five years. But the figures were higher when separated by ethnicity: 87% of people with Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage, 82% of people with Indian heritage, and 75% of all Black contributors.

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“We apologize unreservedly for these experiences, and are thankful for the courage of those who have shared them with the ICEC, whilst recognizing there will be many more who felt unable to give their accounts,” Thompson said.

Rafiq also praised to the British Press Association those who came forward.

“I hope that reading this report will be some closure to all the people that have contributed,” Rafiq said. “All of these people were brave enough to speak to the commission and I know there are a lot more out there suffering in silence. I just hope that this report reflects their voice and gives them a path to closure.

“It doesn’t matter how you speak or where you speak, any sort of decision to speak and contribute to such a huge issue within our society, within our game, takes a lot of courage.”

The ICEC was commissioned in November 2020 as part of the ECB’s wide-ranging effort to address allegations of discrimination and improve equality, diversity and inclusion in cricket. The findings were initially scheduled to be reported last year.

The report calls for “decisive action,” makes 44 recommendations and a number of sub-recommendations. The ECB said some reforms could be “implemented swiftly” but others would require “fundamental, longer-term changes to cricket in England and Wales, and its funding model.”

Thompson said the ruling body would take three months to consult with affected communities and form a plan of action, on timelines set out by the ICEC.

“We will use this moment to demonstrate that it is a game for all and we have a duty to put this right for current and future generations,” Thompson said. “My absolute commitment is for cricket to strive to be the most inclusive sport in England and Wales.”

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The commission was chaired by Cindy Butts, who, among many roles, has held positions with the Independent Police Complaints Commission and anti-discrimination soccer charity Kick it Out.

The ECB said it had already made “significant improvements” since 2018, but added “the report makes clear that much more needs to be done.”

Chief executive officer Richard Gould added, “Making cricket more inclusive and reflective of the communities it serves is my No. 1 priority. This cannot and will not be a quick fix. We should view this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore trust in the game we love.”

England captain Ben Stokes said he was “deeply sorry” to hear the experiences of people who felt unwelcome or unaccepted.

“We need to do all we can to make people feel safe and be themselves at every level,” Stokes said in a statement at Lord’s.

“I have been an England player since 2011 and I feel very fortunate to be part of some incredibly diverse teams and love how everyone has a different story to tell. I am Ben Stokes, born in New Zealand, a state-educated pupil who dropped out of school at 16 with one (passed exam) in PE. I need help with the spelling and grammar in this speech and I am currently sitting here as the England men’s test captain.”


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Felecia Phillips Ollie DD (h.c.) is the inspiring leader and founder of The Equality Network LLC (TEN). With a background in coaching, travel, and a career in news, Felecia brings a unique perspective to promoting diversity and inclusion. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in English/Communications, she is passionate about creating a more inclusive future. From graduating from Mississippi Valley State University to leading initiatives like the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, Felecia is dedicated to making a positive impact. Join her journey on our blog as she shares insights and leads the charge for equity through The Equality Network.

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