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Cricket inequalities in England and Wales are untenable – our report shows how to rejuvenate the game

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 on June 27 2023. Holding Up a Mirror to Cricket contains strong and disturbing evidence about the class prejudice, racism and misogyny that runs 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 the four commissioners working with the ICEC’s chair Cindy Butts (previously the deputy of chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority).

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, where the second men’s Ashes Test is being played – 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.

What our survey found

We also conducted a survey that was distributed within and by cricket clubs across England and Wales, and also by the county teams to both players and coaches. We had more than 4,000 responses, of which 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.

Boys playing cricket in the grounds of a grand private school.
A game of cricket at Charterhouse school in Surrey. Chris Mole/Shutterstock

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 is getting 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.

A group of children in cricket whites high-fiving each other.
The report recommends new national state school competitions. Rawpixel/Shutterstock

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).

Read more: How cricket helped Windrush arrivals build a sense of 'home' in Britain

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.

A sign at Lord's reading 'Welcome to the home of cricket'.
Lord’s cannot find time to host a Test for the England women’s team. Aysha Khatun/Shutterstock

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.

Ninety-three per cent 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 on to 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 10 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.

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