Headingley’s overwhelmingly white crowds show English cricket’s diversity problem has not gone away

HEADINGLEY – Even now, two years after Azeem Rafiq exposed the racist culture at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, the chairman’s post bag is contaminated by “vile” letters penned by racists he believes would interest the police.

Lord Patel was actually on the front foot in an interview given to the BBC during the lunch interval at Headingley, full of praise for the hard work of his staff, good people who are committed to turning the club around.

He talked about a new culture based on the core principles of safety, fairness, respect, equality and dignity. Observe those and you have a thriving enterprise serving its community. Hard to argue with that.

The resistance to change in Yorkshire is expressed by the voices of a warped few. Lord Patel is asking for perspective. The Rafiq affair is reaching its investigative conclusion with the historic charges brought last week by the Cricket Disciplinary Committee, notionally independent of the ECB, against the club and seven individuals linked to it.

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In a separate but related point, since the CDC is appointed by the ECB, it might want to look at the role of the governing body in the Yorkshire case.

As custodians of the sport, the ECB cannot be divorced from events at Yorkshire. What happened at Headingley happened on its watch and furthermore was not unique to one county.

This was ultimately the conclusion reached by the parliamentary inquiry into the Rafiq case. Though the ECB are required to provide quarterly updates to convince the government it is on top of the racism issue, there is a feeling the ECB’s failures have not been sufficiently addressed.

There is still no independent regulator for cricket, and some have argued for the ECB to be scrapped as being no longer fit for purpose.

The new Yorkshire leadership has already demonstrated a commitment to change persuasive enough to regain the trust of the authorities and the right to host international matches. Failure to have done so would have meant oblivion according to Lord Patel, with Yorkshire unable to pay its players or staff.

“90 to 95 per cent of members and people I meet have said thank you for doing what you are doing and have been extremely supportive. I do have a small but substantial bag of letters that if I was to take to the police I think people would be prosecuted. Phenomenally racist.

“We have a very small but very vocal group of individuals that do not accept that racism happened at this club. I think we have to move beyond that denial. Racism happens in society. It certainly happened at this club.

“We have just seen the gymnastics report. We know what happened in athletics. We know there is misogyny, discrimination, power imbalances and these things happen. It happened here badly. It has impacted and made our lives very difficult.

“It’s not about me. It is about all of the staff who are working here tirelessly who have had a year and a half of being in the headlights and a year and a half of being abused – some physically, some verbally. It is them and their families and the players. We had to change for the better and I genuinely think we are. ”

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Yorkshire does not exist in a vacuum. The prevailing culture which gave rise to Rafiq’s ordeal is multi-layered and widespread. Not every racist is overtly wicked nor are they innately bad.

Middlesex chairman Mike O’Farrell put forward the view that British Asians favored education over sport, and the ‘Afro-Caribbean’ community favored football and rugby over cricket. He apologized only when the casual racism informing his attitude was exposed.

The stands at Headingley on the opening day of the third Test were populated overwhelmingly by white Britons.

The latest census reveals that 7.5 per cent of people in Yorkshire identify as British Asian, mirroring the figure across the UK. The figure for white British is 85 per cent. While there were some of Asian heritage in the crowd it did not appear representative. Yet the figures for recreational cricket reveal 30 per cent are British Asian. For reasons which Rafiq’s experience exposed they are not engaging with the professional game as players, and even less so as supporters.

This is the problem with which Lord Patel is grappling. On a positive note, he was able to report a 60 per cent uptake among children engaging with the new pathways established in local communities. It is a start. Lord Patel cannot hope to succeed alone. If racism is present in cricket it is because it is present in us.

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