English cricket warned it could lose funding if it fails to tackle 'deep-seated racism'

14 January 2022, 00:30 | Updated: 17 January 2022, 10:28

Azeem Rafiq, pictured in tears while giving evidence to the DCMS committee.
Azeem Rafiq, pictured in tears while giving evidence to the DCMS committee . Picture: Parliament TV

By Sophie Barnett

English cricket has been urged to "clean up its act" on tackling "deep-seated racism" in the sport to avoid having its public funding cut by the government.

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The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has urged the government to withhold future public funding for English cricket should it fail to show progress in tackling racism within the sport.

The DCMS select committee published its report on cricket's racism crisis on Friday, praising the former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq, who spoke out about the shocking abuse he suffered in November.

The committee says his testimony must now lead to real change - and has issued a warning to the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Read more: Cricketer Rafiq claims 'institutional racism' at club as he details 'inhuman' bullying

The report concludes cricket’s problem is not only “endemic” but the governing body has known about it and failed to properly act.

The DCMS has ordered the ECB to provide parliament with quarterly updates on its plans to tackle racism and says unless there is sustained progress the £2.2m the ECB receives each year from Sport England for the grassroots game could be at risk.

The ECB removed Yorkshire's right to host lucrative international games at Headingley over the former leadership's handling of the Rafiq crisis, and DCMS committee chair Julian Knight said despite the impressive work done at Yorkshire by new chair Lord Patel, the role of the Trust had to be properly addressed before those matches could be restored.

"It gives me real pause for thought as to whether or not they're ready (to host internationals) yet," Knight said.

"Lord Patel has made great strides but we need to be sure that there is no repetition of a situation where those who need to be removed from senior positions at the club are not removed because of a road block through a Trust.

"I would question whether Yorkshire should get the matches back until that issue is resolved. I think that's something we are going to explore with them and the ECB when they come in front of us in the coming weeks.

"I would question very closely the position of the Graves Trust within Yorkshire, or whether or not it should continue to have the influence and power that it does."

Read more: Yorkshire County Cricket Club appoint new chairman amid racism storm

Knight said the committee had received correspondence from other whistleblowers after Rafiq's appearance, but also from others - within the game - expressing "a lack of acceptance that Mr Rafiq had the right to effectively call out racism in the way that he did".

The report said that correspondence, and attempts to "discredit" Rafiq in the media, showed the "long and difficult road" ahead in cricket's fight against racism.

Patel said in response to the report: "We welcome the select committee's call for demonstrable action to rid our sport of racism and discrimination. Azeem Rafiq's testimony was a watershed moment for the sport as a whole, and we are committed to ensuring that no-one endures the unacceptable experience that he did at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

"In the last two months Yorkshire County Cricket Club has made significant progress in our efforts to rebuild, and I am heartened that the committee considers that there is room for optimism in what we have achieved. We share that optimism and have made some real improvements, but we are only at the start of this long and important journey."

Read more: Azeem Rafiq: Yorkshire cricket's entire coaching team leave club in wake of racism scandal

The report found Rafiq a very convincing witness, but Knight was less impressed by the ECB, and its chief executive Tom Harrison.

"The jury is out on the ECB leadership and also on Tom Harrison," he added.

"Although he was clearly contrite and quite clearly shocked as we all were, there was an awful lot of 'management speak' and the potential there not to perhaps communicate in the way we would have liked them to have done.

"We are very much watching. If the ECB fails in this, it's an existential crisis for the ECB. At the moment they're dual in their purpose, promoter and regulator. If they are not up to the task of being a regulator, then there may come a point in the future when we would have to ask that there'll be an independent regulator formed."

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston told the committee in November that independent regulation of the sport was the "nuclear option" if the ECB failed to get its house in order.

Rafiq welcomed the report and said: "The DCMS committee has listened and taken sensible action.

"It is absolutely brilliant that Julian Knight and his colleagues on the committee are going to hold the ECB to account every quarter. This shows just how seriously politicians are taking an issue that too many people in cricket ignored for so long. The committee understands how important it is to clean-up the game."

On November 26, the ECB published a game-wide, 12-point plan to tackle discrimination.

The plan included a review of dressing-room culture, diversity training for all those involved in the sport, a governance review, a drive to remove barriers to playing top-level cricket, localised equality, diversity and inclusion for clubs, counties and governing bodies and examining how stadia can be made more welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds.