Iit was impossible not to be moved by the emotion of Azeem Rafiq’s testimony before the select committee of digital, culture, media and sport and also not to be angry with what he endured at during his career in cricket; not only as a professional, but also as an ambitious junior representing his local club.
As he recalled being targeted with abusive language, that his faith was ignored and ridiculed, and he and other Asian players were homogenized and dehumanized as “Kevin” or “Steve”, I found myself nodding.
The stories were all too familiar, both as a Yorkshire cricketer and as an academic who has researched race and racism in sport since 2007. Except for references to “Kevin” and “Steve” – the Asian players I come from tended to be called “George” – his testimony matched that of the many South Asian people I have worked with.
Listening to Roger Hutton’s subsequent testimony session, outlining Yorkshire’s response to Azeem’s allegations, my ears pricked up more when there was a reference to a ‘Fletcher Report’. My immediate reaction was to think, “I need to read this” before its publication year, 2014, made me realize that was my job.
The research began with my PhD, which examined the experiences of South Asian communities playing cricket in Yorkshire. Following this came two more projects – one funded by the England and Wales Cricket Board (2014) and another jointly funded by the ECB and Yorkshire Cricket (2015) which examined the experiences of South Asian coaches. and South Asian communities in Leeds. and Bradford, respectively.
Both can be found here, but, in summary, it has been found that there are some significant and powerful obstacles that prevent South Asians from progressing to higher levels of the game – whether as players or as coaches. . Due to the existence of separate systems and pathways, ethnically diverse groups have little access to governance networks and therefore knowledge of play and training paths, and qualifications. The low visibility of South Asian players and coaches as role models, coupled with the strong sense that county coaching roles are protected by white goalkeepers for white coaches, has led to believe that the “system” cricket was exclusive.
The so-called Fletcher Report is therefore an amalgamation of three studies and various publications, but it would be unfair to claim full credit for the results, given the extent of the collaboration with other colleagues at Leeds Beckett University. . Yet I was quickly brought back to earth when the YCCC and ECB delegations – despite the work being funded – went blank when it was mentioned to the DCMS select committee.
Since then, a number of people have asked me what it was like to have done the job and ignored it. Although frustrated that he didn’t make an impression at the highest level, the work wasn’t ignored. Quite the contrary. For example, the conclusions of the work were explicitly detailed in the ECB’s action plan for engagement in South Asia. Colleagues and I have written about these connections.
More locally, I know from personal contact with its CEO that the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation has acted on the findings of a series of its influential community work. It would therefore be unfair to tar the whole institution of cricket with the same brush.
But the biggest achievement of this job has probably been its impact on Azeem and, more specifically, the way it gave him the confidence to come forward. In his original testimony he writes how learning more about the history and culture of Yorkshire cricket “helped me to understand the context of my own experience” and “to reflect again on the patterns of language and behavior. that I observed ”.
Enlightening a person on the pernicious inner workings of racism turned out to be the spark of national impact. This is the greatest result of our academic work. I’m proud to be a part of this conversation and how my work can help shape the national strategy.
Having played cricket at a relatively high level for over 25 years, starting my career at Barnsley Cricket Club (the same as Azeem) and hitting the county trails to represent Yorkshire between the ages of 15 and 19, j ‘ve been in many locker rooms and played against thousands of others.
And in all of these environments, I have witnessed racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination. You would be hard pressed to find a cricketer who hasn’t. Anyone who claims otherwise is, frankly, in denial. This culture is normalized, even celebrated; laughed at “joke”. It is rarely questioned. Those of us who did get fired – “Where’s your sense of humor? – or presented as different – “Watch out, Fletch is listening.”
As a white person, racism is something that I come across regularly, but never experience. Other whites will say racist things about others, assuming I share their point of view. I do not. I challenge racism because it is the right thing to do. And I’m in a privileged position to be able to do that because I know my career will never be on the line and my membership will never be compromised if I call it.
For others, like Azeem, this is clearly not (or has not been) the case. This is why the responsibility for speaking out against racism and discrimination should not lie solely with the victims. Surely anyone who loves cricket like me wants a game that is inclusive and welcoming for anyone who wants to play, watch or work at it. The responsibility for ensuring that this is the case rests with all persons associated with the game.
The ECB must simply accept the basic principle that equality is everyone’s business and launch a national inquiry into the nature and extent of racism at all levels of the game. We must seek the views of all those involved. who play, observe, supervise and administer the game.
The term “institutional racism” has circulated a lot in recent days. The very definition is that racism exists at all levels and in all facets of an organization. As such, the Independent Commission for Fairness in Cricket is a valuable asset in capturing self-reported testimony.
My fear, however, is that this only captures the experiences of the victims. If we are to truly understand the nature and extent of racism in cricket, we need to focus on the experiences of bystanders and perpetrators. Only then can we claim to know how racism is overt, normalized, and allowed to hide in plain sight. The main commitment must be to go beyond identifying and defining problems to combating and eradicating them.
Dr Thomas Fletcher is Reader in the School of Events Tourism and Hospitality Management, Leeds Beckett University