LONDON (Reuters) – English cricket is close to an emergency over its failure to address diversity issues, according to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tom Harrison.
Harrison was quizzed by members of a British parliamentary committee on Tuesday shortly after former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq’s harrowing account of racial slurs at the club which had left him feeling “isolated and humiliated”.
Yorkshire’s response to an independent report into Rafiq’s allegations attracted widespread criticism and led the ECB to suspend Yorkshire as a host for international games while the club also lost key sponsors.
Harrison told the panel Yorkshire’s handling of the report “speaks to institutional racism”.
“We’ve been aware of the importance of this agenda – not just racism, but diversity and equity. What we’ve struggled with is getting our first-class game to wake up.
“If we’re not in an emergency, we’re approaching one.”
Addressing members of the government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Harrison commended Rafiq’s “bravery” in speaking out.
“We need to start to look at dressing room culture throughout the country,” Harrison said. “There’s a huge effort on this from the ECB but it takes time to trickle through.”
An emotional Rafiq, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Barnsley and captained England’s under-19 side, earlier told panel members he would not want his son “anywhere near cricket”.
Asked about the perception of English cricket to Britain’s Asian and Black community, Harrison said: “I’d say please understand that we’re really sorry for the experiences you may have been through trying to experience cricket in this country.
“We know we may have let you down. We’ll fix it fast. We know the survival of our sport depends on it. We’ll transform this game very quickly.”
Roger Hutton, who quit as Yorkshire chairman claiming there was a culture within the club that refuses to accept change, was critical of the ECB’s handling of the inquiry, saying the governing body should have been more involved.
“There is a complex role for the national governing body as promoter and regulator,” Harrison said in response. “We do have processes that keep the independence of the regulatory process.”
Kamlesh Patel, who replaced Hutton, said changing the culture of the club was not an “overnight” job.
“I’m prepared to take whatever decisions I need to take. There are too many people suffering at the moment,” he said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Shrivathsa Sridhar and Toby Davis)