English cricket rocked by damning new report into racism, sexism and class discrimination

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

English cricket remains plagued by racism, sexism and class-based discrimination, a damning report set to rock the sport has found.

The 'Holding Up A Mirror To Cricket’ investigation, commissioned by the ECB in late 2020 and carried out by an Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC), surveyed 4,000 respondents, half of whom reported experiencing discrimination of some form.

In a scathing 316-page assessment published today, the review found racism to be “entrenched” in the game, said there was “little to no focus” on breaking down class barriers and that women “are marginalised and routinely experience sexism and misogyny”.

“The stark reality is cricket is not a game for everyone,” said the ICEC chair Cindy Butts, whose review includes a set of 44 recommendations.

The ECB has issued an unreserved apology in line with the first of them, with chair Richard Thompson, who only took up his role last August, saying the report was a “wake-up call” for the sport and vowing to use it to "reset cricket”.

Richard Gould, the ECB chief executive who has also been in post less than a year, called it a “seminal moment” for the game, adding: “[I am] very disappointed by how bad the problem is. Shocked? I don’t think so, unfortunately.”

Cricket has faced growing accusations of racism in recent years, including in front of a parliamentary committee following headline revelations made by former player Azeem Rafiq over his treatment while at Yorkshire, and the new report is merely the latest confirmation of structural and institutional discrimination throughout the game.

Former Yorkshire County Cricket Club cricketer Azeem Rafiq in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee at the House of Commons, London, on the subject of racism in cricket (PA)
Former Yorkshire County Cricket Club cricketer Azeem Rafiq in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee at the House of Commons, London, on the subject of racism in cricket (PA)

The ICEC found that 87 per cent of Pakistani and Bangladeshi respondents, 82 per cent of Indian respondents and 75 per cent of Black respondents experience racism, figures Butts called “simply unacceptable". One Asian former player, whose identity, as with all respondents, has been concealed, likened his experiences of racism to Rafiq’s.

"[Team-mates] poured alcohol on me,” he said. “They threw bacon sandwiches at me. I have lived with all that and never spoke to anyone about it.”

While the ICEC praised progress in growing the women’s game, it concluded that ultimately it is still “treated as subordinate to the men’s game” and that “women have little or no power, voice or influence within cricket’s decision-making structures”.

The investigation also blasted the “embarrassingly small amount” paid to female players at the elite level compared to their male counterparts, claiming the average salary for England Women in white-ball cricket was just a fifth of that of the men, though the ECB insist that figure is “up to 30 per cent.”

There was also heavy criticism of the sport’s bias towards private schools and a lack of provision in state equivalents, with the ICEC’s list of 44 recommendations including an overhaul of talent pathways to make them “meritocratic, inclusive, accountable”.

It also calls for the launch of an action plan specifically targeted at reviving cricket in black communities, which the report repeatedly refers to as an area of particular neglect, and a new independent regulatory body, with the existing complaints process described as not fit for purpose.

The ECB has vowed to work with stakeholders across the game to produce a set of reforms within three months, but Gould told a media call that how and whether each of the recommendations are implemented will depend upon costs, which are already rising year-on-year.

For example, it is recommended that match fees for England players across men’s and women’s teams are equalised immediately, a move that would require significant budget re-allocation given that the ECB are already under pressure to raise men’s match fees in order to compete with lucrative franchise contracts.

“All the recommendations have a timescale connected to them but resource is another limiting factor in terms of the finances we have available,” Gould said. “Those are things we need to work out over the next three months.”

Butts concluded: "To those who don't recognise there is a problem, those who think cricket's problems are isolated, those who mistakenly believe focusing on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion is distracting cricket from cricket, I have one clear message: if cricket is to survive and thrive, and become a game genuinely for all, it has to grip the opportunities I truly believe our recommendations represent.”