After more than two years of research, interviews, and evidence gathering, a landmark report by the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) was published in June. Holding Up a Mirror to Cricket contains strong and disturbing evidence about the class prejudice, racism, and misogyny that run through all levels of the game in England and Wales.
The ICEC was established in 2021 by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the sport’s official governing body, to assess evidence of inequalities and discrimination, and to recommend actions to address these issues. I was one of four commissioners working with the ICEC’s chair Cindy Butts (previously the deputy chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority).
That’s not cricket
We found that class prejudice is extensive in cricket. Racism is still entrenched. Women players and staff are marginalised and routinely experience sexism and misogyny. We also noted that the self-styled ‘home of cricket’ – Lord’s in London – still cannot find time in the diary for the England national women’s team to play a test match.
Our report, which runs to 317 pages, is in part based on in-depth interviews with everyone from the grassroots to the upper echelons of playing, administration and management. Unusually, it also includes a 10,000-word chapter on the history of cricket, which shows the specific role of cricket, over the long term, in establishing hierarchies of class, gender, and ethnicity within British society.
We also conducted a survey that was distributed within and by cricket clubs across England and Wales, and by the county teams to both players and coaches. We had more than 4,000 responses. A shocking 50% of people who play and organise cricket in England and Wales said they had experienced discrimination of some kind.
A key detail is that 79% of the respondents were ‘white British’. The survey’s distribution within cricket clubs led to less women participants than men, at 18%. Our report highlights elitism and class-based discrimination, and how both overlap with ethnicity and gender.
Although we found widespread evidence of racism, the report is not simply a ‘race report’. Instead, it highlights the overlaps of class, race, and gender, and the way in which a culture of elitism inhibits access to the game for a large majority of the population of England and Wales. The reason the report has had so much welcome engagement is because – sadly – many people relate to its findings.
Recommendations for change
Our report contains 44 recommendations designed to transform the game into a truly inclusive sport. Major recommendations are made on governance of the ECB, pay equity for women, creating a new regulator for the sport, a funding and engagement package for state schools, and reforms to the way in which ‘talent’ is identified and nurtured.
We also called on the ECB to make a full public apology to all those who have experienced discrimination in cricket – something it has already done in response to the report’s publication. That call is supplemented by a further demand for a specific apology for the historical neglect of, and discrimination against, women’s cricket and black Caribbean cricket in England and Wales.
The findings and recommendations of the report relating to black cricket build on my Windrush Cricket project at UCL, which looks at the role of cricket in the black experience of migration and settlement in Britain after the second world war. This research will be published as a book in 2024: Windrush Cricket – Caribbean Migration and the Remaking of Postwar England (Oxford University Press).
The historical injustices suffered within the game of cricket by black Britons in the post-war period can never be fully compensated for – but we must build a better future for the current and next generations. We recommend a new, properly financed Black Cricket Action Plan (BCAP) to invest in grassroots black cricket and talent development.
Elitism in cricket
Our report also calls for the Eton v Harrow and Oxford v Cambridge fixtures at Lord’s to be discontinued immediately. I believe these matches are untenable, that they portray the worst possible image of elitism in cricket, and should have no place in modern Britain. They should be replaced by finals days for new national state school and universities competitions. This will make a material difference in terms of widening participation, but the symbolism of replacing one with the other is important too.
We have proposed an action plan to rejuvenate state school cricket – which has been left to decay – and level the playing field between the state and private sectors. 93% of England and Wales attend state schools, yet the professional game is overwhelmingly dominated by the privately educated. When the England men’s team stepped onto the hallowed turf of Lord’s to play Australia, not only was the team 100% white, it was 73% privately educated.
Radical reform of the ‘talent pathway’ is needed. Many counties enrol children on to their elite pathway as young as ten years old. This creates a sizeable structural advantage for privately educated children, at an age where most state primary school children have never played a formal game of cricket. In line with much of the sports science research, we suggest that there is too much selection too early, before children move through puberty, and that county ‘representative cricket’ should not start until the age of 14.
Cricket is Britain’s national summer sport. We can and must do better. This is a matter of social justice but also a rational move. Imagine how good the England men’s and women’s cricket teams might be if we truly broadened the talent pool.