English cricket suffers from “widespread and deep-rooted” racism, sexism, elitism and class-based discrimination at all levels of the game and urgently needs reform, a landmark report has found.
The 317-page report from the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (Icec), which drew on evidence from more than 4,000 players, coaches, administrators and fans, also urges the sport to also face up to the fact “that it’s not banter or just a few bad apples” causing the problems.
The England and Wales Cricket Board responded to the report by issuing an unreserved apology for its failure to adequately tackle discrimination and said the findings were “a seminal moment” for the sport. It pledged to respond to 44 recommendations made by Icec within three months.
However Cindy Butts, the Icec chair, said that fundamental change was quickly needed. “Our findings are unequivocal,” she said. “Discrimination is both overt and baked into the structures and processes within cricket. The stark reality is cricket is not a game for everyone.
“Racism, class-based discrimination, elitism and sexism are widespread and deep rooted. The game must face up to the fact that it’s not banter or just a few bad apples.”
The report, which amounts to one of the most devastating published critiques of a British sports body, lays bare the extent of the game’s failings, including:
Racism is “entrenched” in cricket. “It is not confined to ‘pockets’,” the report states, “nor is it limited to individual incidents of misconduct.” The Icec found that 87% of people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage who responded to its survey, along with 82% of Indian and 75% of Black respondents, said they had experienced discrimination.
Women are marginalised and routinely experience sexism and misogyny – with women’s teams “frequently demeaned, stereotyped and treated as second-class”. As the report also points out, the England women’s team are yet to play a Test at Lord’s, the home of cricket.
Cricket is “elitist and exclusionary” – with “private school and ‘old boys’ networks’ and cliques permeate the game to the exclusion of many”. The report also cites stories of children from state schools being called “peasants” or having their working class accent mimicked.
A “drinking and puerile lads’ culture” across the sport that puts women at risk of unwanted attention and acts as a barrier to the inclusion of Muslim communities.
A complaints system that is confusing, overtly defensive and not fit for purpose. The report says that victims often “suffer in silence” because they feel that no action will be taken if they report abuse.
The report also criticises the ECB for failing to recognise the extent of racism in cricket until more recently, when the former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq laid bare the abuse he had endured playing the game. And it questions why the sport’s governing body failed to take any steps to address the drop-off of black players, or the significant underrepresentation in professional cricket of those who attend state school.
“At the playing level, private school educated players are disproportionately represented, to a significant extent, in England’s national teams, both men and women, compared with the general population,” the report reads. “Diversity of ethnic background has also decreased in the men’s professional game over the last 30 years, and has never been high in the women’s game.”
The Icec’s 44 recommendations range from the modest to the radical. They include a number of measures to tackle racism, sexism and elitism, as well as calls for regular “culture” checks to ensure genuine change. “Cricket must not find itself in the same position in another two years’ time let alone another twenty,” the report states.
The Icec report also calls for an independent regulator, to ensure that the ECB no longer has a conflict of interest in acting as both a promoter and regulator.
Meanwhile in a suggestion that will have some traditionalists frothing it also calls on the annual Harrow versus Eton match, as well as the Varsity game between Oxford versus Cambridge, be replaced by a state school under-15s competition and a finals’ day for university teams, to indicate that the sport is becoming more inclusive.
“Some people may roll their eyes at the perceived ‘wokeness’ of this work,” the report states. “However, as much as the word may have been weaponized in recent years, taking on a pejorative meaning, we consider – and it is often defined as such – that being ‘woke’ or doing ‘woke work’ simply means being alive to injustice.”
Butts is a former commissioner at the Criminal Cases Review Commission and was deputy chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. She is also a trustee of the football anti-racism charity Kick it Out. The report includes a foreword by the former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major.
Some recommendations – including significantly raising the opportunities for state school players – may prove economically challenging. The commission also notes that in 2021 England’s men cricketers received 13 times the amount paid to England’s women players, and suggests there should be equal pay at domestic level by 2029 and international level by 2030, which also may be difficult to achieve.
The report recognises the bravery of the ECB in commissioning the report in March 2021, and acknowledges the game has made some sizeable improvements recently, particularly in attracting more girls and women players. It also accepts that the problems it identifies are “not, sadly, unique to cricket” and are often indicative of “deeply rooted societal problems”.
However the ECB chair, Richard Thompson, said he recognised that the game had to do far more to significantly reform. “Cricket should be a game for everyone, and we know that this has not always been the case,” he said.
“Powerful conclusions within the report also highlight that for too long women and black people were neglected. We are truly sorry for this. I am determined that this wake-up call for cricket in England and Wales should not be wasted.”