While football and rugby league authorities have at least paid lip service to the cause of anti-racism, the cricket authorities have up till now adopted a ‘hear no evil see no evil’ approach to the touchy subject.
However, a new study from the Centre for Sport Development Research at Roehampton Institute has confirmed that cricket in England suffers a major racial divide which threatens the future of the game in this country.
Anyone for Cricket? Equal opportunities and changing cricket cultures in Essex and East London, produced by the CSDR in collaboration with the London Community Cricket Association and the Essex Country Cricket Board, is the most substantial academic survey yet produced on racial bias in English cricket. It presents extensive evidence demonstrating that there are ‘two distinct but related cultures of cricket’.
One is mainly African-Caribbean and Asian, urban and confined to council-maintained public pitches, and ‘largely exists outside the official structures’. The other is white, rural and endowed with well-kept private facilities, and ‘exists largely as part of the official structure’.
The report repeatedly stresses that, in practice, these two cultures ‘are not equal’. African-Caribbean and Asian cricketers, despite their formidable hunger for the game, simply do not enjoy the same facilities, access to leagues, and opportunities to compete as their white counterparts. What’s more, they find their way of playing cricket overtly competitive, sometimes highly vocal frowned upon by white players and officials. ‘Most black and Asian players argued that the mainstream leagues hide behind league regulations and cultural stereotypes of black and Asian cricket, to prevent the admission of black and Asian clubs into the official leagues.’ As a result, ‘many young people are being lost to the game’.
The researchers also interviewed 62 eight to eleven-year-olds from six east London schools girls and boys, black and white and found their perceptions of the game largely free of the familiar stereotypes. Most children rejected the Tebbit test and took a relaxed attitude towards national affiliation. Many believed ‘one’s choice of cricket team was independent of one’s ethnic background or indeed original nationality’.
Launching the report at a press conference held at Lord’s, Ian McDonald, one of the authors of the report, called on cricket authorities to grant black and Asian cricketers ‘the three Rs of cricket development recognition, respect and resources’. Terry Bates, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s development officer, was palpably uncomfortable with the whole issue, but was compelled to accept that something had to be done, and committed the cricket board to producing an anti-racist ‘mission statement’ before the end of the year.
Hit Racism for Six, which has campaigned against racism in cricket since 1995, welcomed the report and the ECB’s response to it. The group is calling on the ECB to take three basic steps: convene a national forum of all bodies involved in African-Caribbean and Asian cricket, draw up a development plan for the game in the inner cities, and adopt an anti-racist charter.