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Cricket can lead the change
Last year we spoke about the crisis engulfing Yorkshire County Cricket Club following allegations by former player Azeem Rafiq that the club was institutionally racist. We wrote a blog and recorded a live-cast with experts from Yorkshire and in cricket, and the mood was generally sombre.
That a county so proud of its 160 year cricket heritage could be brought to its knees in such a way sent shock waves through the sport and the region, but it had been a long time coming. Yorkshire, famously, only admitted players born within the county lines until 1992, putting themselves at a distinct disadvantage. While cross Pennine rival Lancashire had world class players, including the great Clive Lloyd helping them to trophy wins, Yorkshire were scratching around with players from Barnsley and Dewsbury!
Only in the early 90s did they admit Lancastrian and future England captain Michael Vaughan and Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar; but the county had a lot of catching up to do. In terms of equality and inclusion it seems the cricket club made little progress; hence the revelations of Rafiq leading to 16 senior staff being dismissed, Test Matches being pulled from the county and sponsors leaving in droves.
Next week, on the 25th January, representatives from the English Cricket Board will meet with executives from four clubs, including Lord Patel of Yorkshire, to report on improvements they have made to combat racism within the sport.
We await their words with interest, but the leaders in the game now have a real chance to lead the way, rather than being held up as a sport with the least inclusive culture. Cricket has a big advantage over other sports, quite simply because there is such a large Asian community playing cricket in the UK, much greater than Asian representation in football, rugby, tennis or golf. And in Yorkshire, Asian cricket is particularly strong at grass roots level.
There s a huge opportunity here for the sport to get it right and if English cricket clubs can ensure they are inclusive to all, then standards will rise and the England cricket team will have a richer source of talent. Who knows…we might even win the next Ashes in Australia!
Pundit David Lloyd highlighted recently that part of the problem lies in the club- house culture of cricket clubs, where the beers are lined up after a game particularly after a win. If that is the only way to celebrate and bond a team then there is an obvious exclusion of players with a Muslim faith.
I’m not suggesting we shut the bars. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is not about changing a country’s culture, re-writing its history or pulling down statues, despite what some sections of the media would have you believe. It’s about taking care not to exclude anyone, as we were all taught as children; it’s about kindness, fairness, sensitivity to feelings and tolerance.
Here in the UK we can sometimes fall into the trap of saying, ‘well we’re not perfect but we’re not as bad as X, Y or Z’. Hey, and surely we can’t be as sexist or racist as the Aussies! But that in itself is a prejudice we have against the nation which has just panned us in the Ashes, as Aussie skipper Pat Cummings so ably proved last week. During the after-match celebrations, when he noticed Muslim player Usman Khawaja was standing aside and alone while the other players showered champagne over each other; he stopped the champagne chucking and brought Khawaja in to celebrate with his team-mates…so all 11 of the victors could stand together in their triumph. If the Aussies are showing us how to be inclusive then it’s not just playing the game we’re trailing at.
Out of any crisis opportunities will appear; Yorkshire and the rest of English cricket must take their chance.
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