The frustrating and offensive thing about the ICEC ‘equity’ in cricket report is most people in cricket, like most in the country, are kind and welcoming. We can have a conversation about inclusivity that isn’t inflammatory and accusatory. The report fails for that reason.
We all know cricket isn’t quite the national sport it should be. Many elite cricketers went to private schools. For one reason or another many feel the game ‘isn’t for them’. Football has eaten sporting coverage, and cricket isn’t as prominent as it was.
There are lots of reasons for this. The loss of terrestrial TV coverage. The sale of school playing fields. The decline of state schools playing the game. The omnipresence of football, the competition from other rising sports.
It’s not the fault of private schools that state schools play the game less. It’s not the fault of the county clubs that the game is less visible. The ECB negotiates the TV rights for international matches and the games always end up on subscription channels.
One thing cricket is not is stuck in the mud. It adapted its format for one-day games, T20 and even the (despicable) H*ndred. It adopted TV umpiring and the use of technology before other sports. The game is always changing, and changing fast.
I don’t doubt there is racism, sexism and snobbery at every level of the game. Likewise I don’t doubt that certain clubs – Yorkshire most obviously – have had a problem with bigotry. I think Tendulkar was their first non-white player as late as 1992.
I don’t doubt that there are some dinosaurs with the wrong attitudes still involved in the game’s governance. But this does not mean the game itself is institutionally or systemically or structurally racist or sexist or prejudiced against working class people.
Disparity is not always discrimination, and where it isn’t the causes are often complex. Cricket is a highly technical sport. The later you start playing it the harder it is to break through. It’s no surprise many elite cricketers are children of elite cricketers.
Equipment is expensive. Indoor nets in winter. Decent nets in summer. Bats, pads etc. If people will pay for high quality coaching, it’s bound to go to those who can pay and not necessarily to those who can’t.
The money English cricket has accumulated from Sky over the years has gone mostly into elite player development, and the results are visible. We are much better than we were when I was a kid. But the game is far narrower and less visible than it was.
The sport can obviously do more to make sure it appeals to kids and families from different ethnic backgrounds. Warwickshire, my home county, does loads of outreach with Asian fans in Birmingham, and even calls itself the Birmingham Bears for T20 cricket.
Where the report today details specific acts of racism and sexism and snobbery those acts should be deplored, and those who want to stand up to such behaviour need to be supported.
But there is a lot to question about the overall approach. First, the Commission was asked to make recommendations to bring “equity” to the sport. This is a loaded and politically contested term, connoting equality of outcome.
Second, the report is stock full of language from American critical race theory and gender ideology. ‘Cisgender’ is mentioned 45 times in the annex. There’s a section on intersectionality and “intersectional advantage and privilege”.
There is even a constructed bogeyman, which the report calls “Type K”: “white men, educated in private schools, who are straight and cisgender, and do not have a disability.”
Some arguments are clearly absurd. The report criticises those who dislike the Hundred (forgettable cricket in a nonsense format with synthetic teams) and drums and music inside grounds, and presents them as part of the problem.
Equally it criticises the fact that many cricketers like to socialise over drinks and clubs making money from their bars as this might be difficult for Muslims especially.
Some complaints are downright odd. A parent said his son was a leading run scorer but didn’t get picked for the county team (sounds like he was in the squad) as he was told he wasn’t the best player. But the best technique at early ages does not always mean the most runs.
“Structural reasons” given for the relative lack of black players include “the heavy time commitment required from parents/guardians”, which itself seems pretty prejudiced about the commitment of black parents.
In sum, the report suffers in the same ways as a lot of modern political activism. Through its accusatory tone, American theories, flimsy arguments, dubious evidence and self-fulfilling terms of reference, it divides and polarises instead of bringing workable solutions.
If we had a less adversarial conversation it would be easier to understand one another and reach compromises and accommodations. And as Ebony Rainford-Brent has said, the big challenge is for cricket to reach everyone, across class divides more than racial ones.
Here the problem lies with the ECB not ‘Type Ks’. Put cricket on free-to-air TV more often, promote T20, invest in grassroots, do more with schools, do more outreach work in the cities, the minor counties, state schools and across ethnic communities and the white working class.
Nick Timothy writes for the Daily Telegraph and the Critic. He is a senior fellow at Policy Exchange and author of Remaking One Nation: The Future of Conservatism. This article first appeared on his Twitter feed.