Middlesex chairman Mike O’Farrell has been accused of stereotyping after claiming that black people are likely to prefer football over cricket, while Asians prioritise academia.
O’Farrell, who later issued a separate apology, was one of a number of county chairmen called before a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee set up in the wake of the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal on Tuesday.
Rafiq and England legend Ebony Rainford-Brent were among those to criticise his comments, the former claiming they highlight the “endemic problem” facing the sport in this country.
O’Farrell and his counterparts had been summoned to discuss the ways in which their counties are working to boost diversity and was asked about the idea that Middlesex are underachieving on that front given their base in one of the world’s most multi-cultural cities.
“Fifty seven per cent of the players we have at under-17 come from culturally diverse backgrounds,” he said. “As we move up the chain, particularly as we get to the academy, we then find it becomes more difficult for several reasons.
“The football and rugby world becomes much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community, and in terms of the South Asian community there’s a moment where we’re finding that they do not want to commit necessarily the same time that is necessary to go to the next step because they prefer - not always saying they do it - they prefer to go into other educational fields where cricket becomes secondary.”
Rafiq’s testimony on the racist abuse he experienced whilst a player at Yorkshire sent the game into crisis, prompting major changes at the county and the implementation of a 12-point plan to tackle discrimination by the ECB.
Reacting to O’Farrell’s comments on Twitter, Rafiq wrote: “This has just confirmed what a endemic problem the game has. I actually can’t believe what I am listening to.”
Rainford-Brent was the first black woman to play cricket for England and she now acts as a director at Surrey and chair of the ACE Programme charity which aims to support diverse talent.
“Honestly these outdated views in the game are exactly why we are in this position,” she added on Twitter.
“Unfortunately the decision-makers hold onto these myths. ‘The Black community only like football, and Asian community only interested in education’ Seriously the game deserves better.”
In statement released later on Tuesday afternoon, O’Farrell offered a “wholehearted apology”.
“I wholly accept that this misunderstanding is entirely down to my own lack of clarity and context in the answers I provided, and I am devastated that my comments have led to the conclusions some have made,” the statement read.
“For the purposes of clarification, I was aiming to make the point that as a game, cricket has failed a generation of young cricketers, in systematically failing to provide them with the same opportunities that other sports and sectors so successfully provide.
“I speak on behalf of the entire Club in saying that our desire is to see a first eleven walking out to play for the Club which is truly reflective of the broadly diverse county that Middlesex is today and that we will do all within our power to make that happen.”