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Racism in English Cricket

Volume 818: debated on Wednesday 26 January 2022


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the progress towards tackling racism in English cricket.

My Lords, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government are clear that racism has no place in cricket, just as it has no place in any sport or in our society at large. We welcome the steps taken so far by the England and Wales Cricket Board and the new chairman of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford. These steps are only the beginning. We now expect to see clear and sustained evidence of cultural change across the sport resulting from them. We will continue to hold the ECB to account directly on this and reserve the right to take further measures if necessary.

I thank the noble Lord for that reply. I join him in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, is really doing us all a service here in taking this on. Will the Government give us an assurance that this will not be something that sticks with cricket, but that they will look wider and make sure that all sport learns from what is found out, and also that cricket will have to learn the lessons learned in other sports? Otherwise, we are in danger of having small reports and struggles repeating themselves over and over again.

I certainly agree with the noble Lord about the important role being played by the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford. Just as in the previous Question about football, it is a commendation of your Lordships’ House that it is from this House that work to deal with these important issues is coming. I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, held a briefing with interested Peers on Monday, ahead of this Question, to update them on the work he is doing. He made very clear that, while his focus is on sorting out the problems in Yorkshire, he is drawing on the experiences of people from other sports, and the lessons that he is learning and the actions he is taking have implications for other sports and, indeed, other parts of society.

My Lords, does the noble Lord have an opinion about the abysmal performance of the Middlesex chairman in front of a House of Commons committee in the last few days when he displayed all the racism that too many white people at senior levels in cricket in this country seem to adhere to?

I agreed with Ebony Rainford-Brent who called Mr O’Farrell’s comments at the Select Committee “painful” and “outdated.” I am glad to see he has apologised for them, but I share the dismay of many in hearing them. I think it also underlines the important point that racism takes many forms: it can be a sin of commission as well as of omission. It is good if people are focusing on the barriers that might be holding people back from participating in society, but it is completely wrong to stereotype people on the basis of their race or ethnicity, and that is why it was so dismaying to hear what he said yesterday.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and Middlesex, and others. Does my noble friend acknowledge that the sweeping changes that have been made at Yorkshire County Cricket Club under the direction of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, indicate the sort of measures that may have to be taken more widely in sport to ensure that potential players, spectators and lovers of sports can find a real welcome when they are involved, either as players or as members?

Like my noble friend, I was impressed by the summary given by the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, of the work that he has undertaken since he became the chairman of Yorkshire County Cricket Club nine weeks ago. He outlined the many actions that are being taken, and I agree that these will have a wider application for other cricket clubs and other sports.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the reports that many county cricket clubs charge huge amounts of money for young players who have been identified as having particular skills to go into training programmes? He will know that there is a concern at the higher reaches of cricket that there is a dominance by pupils from public schools. Does he not think that the ECB needs to take action to make sure that these training programmes are open to everyone?

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is right: there are many barriers which hold people back, and the Government are working with Sport England and other agencies to dismantle those barriers and make sure that everybody has the opportunity to participate in sport, whoever they are and wherever they come from. There is obviously work for the ECB to do, and lessons are being learnt in Yorkshire at the moment, but the noble Lord is right that these barriers go beyond matters of race.

My Lords, Yorkshire has shown clearly how racism had affected cricket in the past and, thanks to the effort of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, that things are now improving. I would like to know what is being done in youth clubs and schools to ensure that people from diverse communities are aware that racism should not be a bar in pursuing a career in cricket?

Over the last four years, Sport England’s investment in the ECB has focused on equality and diversity, with a commitment to fund, for instance, its south Asian action plan and its south Asian female activators project, to give just two examples of how it is encouraging people from different backgrounds to take their rightful places and reach their full potential in this sport.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Worcestershire County Cricket Club, which has a proud record of inclusion and cultural and ethnic diversity going back over 60 years, starting with the great Basil D’Oliveira, followed by his son and this grandson, all of whom have been associated with the club. The chairman is from an ethnic minority background and his insistence on good governance and diversity is a model that other counties should follow, and the club is certainly well ahead of the ECB guidelines. Could the Government have some conversations with Mr Hira to see what Worcestershire is doing right and how others can learn from it?

The noble Lord is right that we should point to the many happy examples of people who are getting it right and who are working very earnestly and very hard to make sure that people from all backgrounds are able to enjoy cricket, whether as players or spectators. In his capacity as president of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, my noble friend Lord Naseby came to the briefing with the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and we are always happy to point to examples of clubs that are getting it right, and from which others can learn.

My Lords, we have heard this afternoon a litany of responses which focus on racism, and rightly so. For our part, it is very frustrating to see the responses of senior people in cricket, and others across the sport, who are determined to bury their heads in the sand on this issue. The announcement that Clare Connor will lead a review into dressing room culture in the men’s and women’s games is very welcome, but that must be only one part of the sport’s response. Yesterday the chair of Glamorgan County Cricket Club noted that his own club’s efforts to promote diversity were only possible after years of work to make the club financially sound. What work is the government department doing with the ECB and the clubs themselves to ensure that schemes such as those promoted by Glamorgan get off the ground and start to produce the results and make the fundamental changes that cricket needs?

As I said, we are watching the ECB closely and reserve the right to take further action if we think that is needed. But since November, the ECB has made some structural developments for long-term cultural change, which is what we need to see, including publishing its plan for diversity and inclusion. It has also committed to forming a new anti-discrimination unit by June this year. The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket, which was established in March 2021, has opened a call for evidence and will publish a report in the summer this year, examining all the issues relating to race and equity in cricket. We are glad to see that work is being done.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister would like to congratulate Show Racism the Red Card on taking on Monty Panesar as a patron and a very active member of that charity, working in schools to ensure that the message of anti-racism gets through. However, I feel that the Government may very well have to do more, because those remarks made by the Middlesex chairman yesterday, to which my noble friend has already referred, were utterly appalling and speak of deep-seated bigotry and bias; he clearly thought that what he said was reasonable, while I am sure everyone in this House believes that it was not.

I am very happy to extend my congratulations to Show Racism the Red Card. There are many organisations, individuals and role models who are doing sterling work in highlighting the issues that have been faced by so many people for far too long, pointing to the way forward and making sure that people are inspired to enjoy playing or watching their preferred sport to the best of their abilities.