Two days after the Independent Commission for Fairness in Cricket released its report and recommendations, a friend of mine sat next to a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club at an off-cricket lunch.
She guessed he was a member of the MCC, since his cap had a ring of the club’s red and yellow colors. They talked about cricket and my friend mentioned the ICEC report.
He said angrily, who do these people think they are? what do they know Undeterred, my friend asked what he thought of women’s cricket, in particular the committee’s proposals for pay equality. She was greeted with a look and a word: “Never.”
She went on to tell some facts about inequality and the growing interest in women’s cricket. It was countered that she was well-informed.
Readers will know that cricket was governed by the MCC from 1787 to 1993 when these functions were handed over to the International Cricket Council and domestically to the Test and County Cricket Boards. The board was replaced by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in 1997.
In 1999, the ECB published a report, Clean Bowl Racism, which concluded that racism existed in cricket. Its chief executive said: “Complacency about racial equality is unacceptable. We must open our doors to everyone.”
So, according to ICEC’s findings, why are the same problems of racism, combined with sexism and classism, still prevalent almost a quarter of a century later?
In 1999, England’s men’s Test team had four descendants of South Asian and Caribbean immigrants. There is one in this week’s team.
The first black man to be named to the England national team was in 1980. Born in Barbados, he moved to England at the age of 14. As of 1997, there were 13 other men making their debut for England, three of whom were born in England. Since then, 127 men have made their debuts, including just six black male players and 15 of South Asian descent. At the time, only two black female contestants made their debuts.
The committee emphasized that “it is well known that the concept of race has no biological basis and is rooted in the historical justifications of imperialism, colonialism and slavery.”
It added that race became “a way of organizing humans into biological categories and was used to explain perceived differences among them, notably asserting the superiority of Europeans over blacks, browns and Asian ‘others’ .”
The social structure of race is contested. UK public statistics are collected and reported by race, a form of custom group identification based on ethnic, tribal, linguistic, cultural and religious origin or background.
Since the late 1940s, there has been an increasing number of migrants entering the UK from South Asia. According to the 2021 Census, South Asians now make up almost 7% of the population of England and Wales.
Yet this ethnic group makes up almost 30 percent of adult recreational cricketers, according to ICEC research. In 2021, South Asian players in the UK are disproportionately represented at 5% in first-class cricket.
The report is filled with the results of the data analysis. Research by the council included an online survey of live cricketing experiences in late 2021, with 4,156 responses, one in two reporting discrimination. Interviews were conducted with various cricket bodies and a preliminary study of male and female cricketers was carried out.
But that hasn’t stopped critics from accusing it of reaching conclusions “on the rather flimsy basis of self-reports and subjective experience,” “without meaningful scrutiny or analysis.”
Beyond this allegation, other fronts have focused on predictable topics. One event sure to draw Purple’s ire is the annual Eton vs. Harrow state school match, first held at Lord’s College in 1805.
The match has sparked controversy, with some seeing it as a show of classism. The MCC proposed removing the game from the schedule, but was vetoed by its members. One of ICEC’s recommendations is that games should no longer be played at Lord’s Stadium after 2023. This is unlikely to happen.
Another suggestion by ICEC that professional female cricketers should be paid equally was countered by the argument that no one wanted to watch or that no one was interested. As highlighted in last week’s column, this is no longer the case. The more competitions are played, the more exposure you get and the potential to attract additional revenue, sponsorships and media coverage.
Critics of ICEC said there was “a kind of hostility” in the report. Presumably some MCC members and those who share their views feel this most strongly, seeing it as a personal attack on their status, creed, and social standing.
Despite numerous initiatives by counties, MCC and inner city foundations to provide opportunities for minority groups, the entry of South Asian and black cricketers into professional cricket appears to have slowed over the past 20 years. There are a variety of reasons for this: lack of facilities in public schools and public spaces, prohibitively expensive equipment, insufficient minority coaches, and a preference for those who can afford additional coaches.
Another commonly cited reason is that football is becoming more popular, especially among ethnic minorities. It’s played in public schools, with cheaper equipment and a highly developed scouting system.
Additionally, men’s Test cricket has not been available on terrestrial television since 1999.
The overriding impression of ICEC’s report is that cricket policy makers in England and Wales, who are almost exclusively white and male, believe that discrimination is not widespread in cricket in their territories. This is likely echoed by many white players and supporters.
The commission said the reality was different. Given the entrenched beliefs of powerful voters, the current ECB management faces the daunting task of changing perceptions, reversing inertia, and implementing at least some of ICEC’s recommendations.