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Cricket told to ‘clean up its act’ on racism or lose public funding

A parliamentary committee has said public money should be withheld from cricket unless it can “clean up its act” on racism.

In November Azeem Rafiq gave emotional testimony to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee about the racist abuse he faced during two stints at Yorkshire beginning in 2008 and ending in 2018.

‘Deep-seated’ racism within cricket

In a report published on Friday, the committee found there was “deep-seated” racism within the sport and gave the example of the language used in correspondence with the committee and attempts to “discredit” Rafiq in the media as evidence of a “long and difficult road” ahead for the sport.

It went on to call on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to develop a set of key indicators and provide quarterly updates to the committee on its progress, or else face a cut to government funding.

The committee said the ECB and Yorkshire will be called to give evidence on their progress early this year.

“We are watching closely and fully intend to ensure that cricket cleans up its act,” the report read.

“We recommend that the government ensures that any future public funds for cricket are dependent on continuous, demonstrable progress in getting rid of racism in both the dressing rooms and on the stands.”

ECB 12-point plan

The ECB published a game-wide 12-point plan to tackle discrimination on 18 November. Its chief executive Tom Harrison described the racism allegations made by Rafiq and other players as an “earthquake” in cricket.

The plan includes 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 government bodies and examining how stadia can be made more welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds.

MP Julian Knight, chair of the committee, said: “The powerful evidence given to this committee by Azeem Rafiq convinced us that his story was typical of an endemic problem across the whole of cricket. We commend him for having the courage to blow the whistle on unacceptable and discriminatory behaviour.

“We have been shocked by language people used in correspondence with us after the hearing. That, together with stories run in the media to discredit him, demonstrate that eradicating racism from the game will be a long and difficult road. However, this is a watershed for cricket in this country. Those who love and support the game are part of the solution and must play their part.

“Changes introduced by Lord Patel at Yorkshire County Cricket Club give room for optimism, but alone cannot eradicate racism in the game. Public funding for cricket must depend on real leadership and progress by the ECB to tackle abhorrent behaviour, not just in the dressing rooms, but also in the stands.

“The government must make future funding conditional on the game cleaning up its act. We put the ECB on notice that we expect regular updates delivered to this committee on progress being made.”

Commenting on the report, Rafiq 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.

“The additional hearing proposed, in which the ECB and Yorkshire Country Cricket Club will be required to give evidence on their progress, is also good news. They need to be given the chance to do the right thing and I’m encouraged by Lord Patel’s work since he was appointed chair at YCCC.

“I’m glad that MPs will monitor any progress, so that the reforms needed to make the sport inclusive to all youngsters can happen soon.”

The committee set up the inquiry after Yorkshire announced no disciplinary action would be taken against any individual at the club despite an investigation it commissioned concluded there was “no question” Rafiq had experienced bullying and racial harassment.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club response to report

Responding to the DCMS report, Lord Patel said: “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.”

The club could still face further sanctions from the ECB’s ongoing investigation into how it handled Rafiq’s complaints.

Barry O’Brien, interim chair of the ECB, commented: “We welcome the committee’s recommendations and the focus of Julian Knight and committee members on achieving real change.

“We also embrace the ongoing scrutiny of the committee and all those that love the game of cricket who will be watching closely as we undertake the continuous, demonstrable, progress in eradicating racism from the dressing room and from the stands. We are determined to root out racism – and other forms of discrimination – from our sport.”

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