The England & Wales Cricket Board has pledged for the first time to “urgently address” the lack of black cricketers in the game as the chairman of African-Caribbean Cricket Association urges them to appoint a leading black QC to spearhead an independent inquiry.
Lonsdale Skinner, the chairman of the African Caribbean Cricketers’ Association and former Surrey player, believes his community have been “deliberately excluded” by English cricket since the mid 1990s.
He said he was heartbroken to hear Michael Carberry’s recent revelations about the overt racism he experienced in professional cricket because it mirrored Skinner’s own experiences decades earlier.
Skinner has questioned why there are no black administrators at the ECB, or ever been a black county chief executive or chairman and why his community, which has a cultural link to and love of the game, has been allowed to drift away from the sport.
In response a spokesman for the ECB admitted to Telegraph Sport they “know that barriers still exist for many communities to engage with the sport” with the result there are "too few black people" playing cricket and “this must change.” They have pledged to work with “community leaders” and “black influencers” to drive change.
Skinner believes the county academy set up, either deliberately or by happenstance, excludes youngsters from poor black communities and says it is lazy excuse-making to suggest young black people are no longer interested in cricket.
The numbers back him up. Research carried out at Leeds Beckett University – published by Telegraph Sport last year – stated that over the previous 25 years, the number of black players in English county cricket had fallen by 75 per cent. In 1995 there were 33 black British cricketers competing in county cricket. Last year there were nine. The report also added that of the 118 support staff employed across the 18 counties, only two were black.
“To remedy this problem they need an inquiry led by a black QC of good repute to look into why this situation has occurred. Cricket has become toxic and there is nothing that can be done bar an inquiry to put it right. They need somebody from outside with some knowledge to stop this.
“I think we have been excluded deliberately and the ECB have done nothing about it. If rugby can have four, five, six black internationals and cricket can’t produce one then something is desperately wrong.
“Rugby realised it did not have a lot of black players. So the sport went around scouting for talent, opened doors and they are now playing for England. The ECB has done nothing to stop the drain of young black youngsters away from professional cricket. Neither did the PCA. Was this by coincidence or was it planned?
“I have watched this gradually deteriorate. People put out stuff saying young black people don’t like cricket. If you run a business and you know there is a section of your community that loves what you produce but suddenly stops wanting it you would ask why is that the case?
"The ECB have done nothing of the sort. This has been a long running problem and not just suddenly become an issue because of Black Lives Matter. They think if we do some piecemeal exercise they will put it right. They should not be allowed to do that.
"They need a root and branch review of it to find out why black people are not playing otherwise nothing will change. They need to look at themselves too. Why is it an organisation like the ECB in the middle of London, with a huge black population, does not have one person in a decision making position who is black? Is that not strange?
“Even if they have a plan it is not going to work because the set up now does not encourage black cricketers. You have no black coaches on the scene, no black administrators, no black committee members. You have very few black players at the academies. Black umpires? Not one is on the first class scene.”
A spokesman for the ECB said in a statement: “We recognise that there is a problem with too few black people participating in cricket, and this needs addressing urgently. We truly believe that cricket is a game for everyone but we know that barriers still exist for many communities to engage with the sport. This must change.
“Our inclusion and diversity strategies have worked to build greater inclusion in the sport and they are having an impact. As of last year, 23 per cent of County academy cricketers (the highest potential U15-18s boys at the first-class counties) are BAME, while 15 percent of people completing the Advanced (level 3) coaching course were BAME – one example of more people from BAME backgrounds completing a range of different coaching courses. Both show some initial progress in diversifying the talent and coaching pathways.
“Despite this there is a lot more work to do – and we are committed to achieving this. We have already set targets for BAME representation on county Boards that will reflect local populations. There will be a wider roll out of the Rooney Rule while our investment into cricketing facilities will provide more places to play and enjoy our sport in inner-city areas.
“We recognise where we are at as a game and we are committed to long-term change. We will work with community leaders, black influencers within cricket and the whole game to build on our existing Inclusion and Diversity Strategy and directly address the issues raised. From there we will look to create demonstrable action in order to ensure that cricket is relevant and accessible to people for generations to come.”
Skinner and members of the black cricket community will wait and see if the ECB’s words are matched by deeds.
Skinner, now 69, was born in Guyana and came to this country aged 11. He was a professional at Surrey 1969-77, playing through Surrey’s age groups before making it to the first team as a wicketkeeper. It was a period of global dominance of cricket by the West Indies and the Oval would be packed out with African-Caribbean families and supporters. They have vanished from the game and Skinner says this was a deliberate act on the part of the authorities.
“If you look out from the pavilion at the Oval, from the left where the groundsmen is based towards the Vauxhall stand, that used to be all the Caribbean people sitting there. Then a man called Glynn Woodman was chief executive of Surrey and he did not like that. He considered them rowdy, disorderly and did not like the way they enjoyed their cricket. He broke them up and started excluding them from the Oval. The first thing he did was exclude the whistles, drums and bugles from the ground which were so central to the celebrations. He had extra security guards at the gate. Once he did it at the Oval it went to Birmingham, Old Trafford and Headingley. Then the numbers went down.
“The noises and celebrations when they were in the ground has been replaced up to a certain extent by the Barmy Army but nobody is making detrimental comments about them. When they go around the world with their flags and bugles they are welcome and congratulated. But the Caribbean cricket lovers were banned from doing that. That is when the exclusion of cricket lovers started.
“The numbers dropped off. Nobody talks about their exclusion. All they talk about is they don’t come to the ground anymore because they don’t like the game. It is a lie. When people say that they are doing a Donald Trump. They are deflecting. The question they should be asking is why are they not coming.”
Skinner took his fears over the county age group set ups after two African-Caribbean cricketers were dropped from their programmes on the verge of graduating to the Academy with what he believes were minor technical faults. One now plays football for AFC Wimbledon instead, the other has gone into rugby. Skinner met with the club’s chief executive, Richard Gould, who subsequently set up the ACE programme at the Oval aimed at the black community. At its first event in March black children from as far as Bristol showed up.
“Why would a youngster come all the way from Gloucester? Lack of opportunity that’s why. The academy system is something dreamed up by white middle class people for their own benefit. And whether deliberately or not, it has excluded young black people. They require young people to go 4.30-6pm. For black parents that is working time. Most middle class white kids have a parent that can take them to a session. Most of those young people are from fee paying schools who have a full time professional coach and very good facilities. Between the ages of 10-16 it is very difficult for a state school educated player to match those others.”
When Carberry spoke out recently and the revealed racist abuse he experienced in the county system, it once again brought it home to Skinner.
“When I heard Carberry talking I was laughing. Not because it was funny. I retired in 1977. That is 43 years ago. To hear that young man talking like that about the same thing I had to go through was a crying shame. It is a disgrace. He is hurt now. I am also going to say I have been complicit with this. I knew his father very well. I should have warned him, I should have kept an eye on him and told him this is what you are going to face.
“In our culture old people talk to young people in parables. They don’t explain to you fully what you are going to face in life. If they did it would ruin your life so they give it to you in parables. As you get older these parables make sense.”
For Skinner those parables are being played out in cricket in England in 2020. “This has not just come to light because young people are demonstrating on the streets making noises. It has always been there. I have to say this to those who are going to try and patch it up in cricket. These youngsters are not going away so my recommendation is a wholesale root and branch review for the ECB. Anything else would be playing with the problem. But they do not want to talk about it because it is too much for them.”