England and Wales Cricket board chief executive Tom Harrison has not ruled out an independent regulator for cricket after admitting an “earthquake” had hit the sport in the last few weeks.
The ECB published a 12-point, game-wide action plan on Friday to tackle racism and all forms of discrimination in the game, following Azeem Rafiq’s testimony to MPs earlier this month about the abuse he suffered at Yorkshire.
“The last few weeks have been very, very tough for cricket. It feels like an earthquake has hit us,” Harrison said.
“The most damning part of Azeem’s testimony is that he didn’t want his son to be part of the game. That is, for someone in my job, the most difficult thing you can hear.”
One of the points in the action plan is a governance review of the ECB. In a week where a fan-led review recommended an independent regulator for football, Harrison said it was appropriate that the review should at least consider whether that was the best way forward for cricket too.
“We had a meeting yesterday with the county chairs… whether we should be the regulator and the national governing body going forward,” he said.
“That conversation is one we’re going to have with the game as well.
“I think it’s the right time for us now to go back as a collective again and work out whether we have got the right governance structures, given the pressures and the uniquely different role that ECB plays now as a major sport, with the multiple hats that we have to wear, overseeing the game as we do.
“If a governance review comes back with a recommendation (that an independent regulator is appropriate) then you’ve got to have a very good reason not to go along with that recommendation.”
The ECB’s regulatory processes – and why it had not intervened to investigate Rafiq’s allegations at an earlier stage – were questioned by the same Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee who heard from Rafiq.
Jo Stevens MP, Labour’s shadow DCMS secretary, was quick to point out the action plan should have already been in place.
She said: “The report today is a reminder of previous ECB failures to get a grip on the racism scandal engulfing cricket.
“Many of the measures listed should have been in place years ago. Players, staff and fans will struggle to have faith in a process which is being overseen by the same people who have stood by for so long.
“What we need is a proper independent inquiry to encourage victims to come forward for real changes to be made across cricket.”
The game-wide plan has looked at understanding and education, addressing dressing-room culture, removing barriers in the talent pathway, creating a welcoming environment for all and publishing localised EDI action plans within six months.
Some of the measures agreed by the game-wide response to racism will be implemented immediately like EDI training for all those who work in cricket and the adoption of anonymised recruitment tools for senior roles.
There are others with a deadline in mind, like targets for board diversity to include 30 per cent female or locally representative ethnicity by April of next year. Compliance will be subject to a “comply or explain” provision.
ECB central funding could be withheld where EDI minimum standards are not met, the governing body said.
The plan also commits the sport to adopting a standardised approach to reporting, investigating and responding to complaints, allegations and whistleblowing across the game within three months.
Harrison was asked whether he had considered his own position amid the racism scandal.
“I’m so committed to sorting this issue with the game,” he said.
“I understand I have the backing of the game and I am very motivated to make sure we provide this welcoming environment across our sport, for everybody.
Cricket commits to action plan to tackle racism and all forms of discrimination.
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— England and Wales Cricket Board (@ECB_cricket) November 26, 2021
“That is something I’ve felt passionately about since the moment I walked into this job, and I’m not going to walk away from that now.”
The ECB will work with recruitment firm Perrett Laver to help achieve the board diversity targets, its chief diversity and communications officer Kate Miller said.
The firm already supports Sport England and UK Sport in their drive to diversify the boards of sports governing bodies.
Asked why someone from a diverse background would want to work in cricket given the revelations of recent weeks, Harrison said: “Whilst we’ve obviously seen some horrific examples of our game, of excluding people and exploiting people in some cases, there are incidents of best practice out there as well.
“Our approach has to be to go into communities, talk to community leaders from every side of the cricket-playing and the non cricket-playing spectrum to work out what it is we’re not doing or not doing well enough.
Mehmooda Duke MBE DL steps down at Chair of LCCC with immediate effect.
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— Leicestershire CCC 🏏 (@leicsccc) November 25, 2021
“You’re dealing with unconscious bias right the way through to some of the more extreme testimony that we’ve heard over the last few weeks. You know, we’ve got to deal with all of it and I think there’s enough positive energy out there to get this right.”
Harrison said he regretted the decision of Mehmooda Duke, the chair of Leicestershire and one of only two people from an ethnic minority group to hold such a position across the 18 first-class counties, to stand down.
“I’m very sorry to hear that decision. I think there are lots of people in the game who feel that our commitments don’t go far enough. I’m probably in that camp myself.
“I’m sorry to see her go because she had a huge contribution to make.”