English cricket should face state funding cut over racism, say MPs

MPs have urged the UK government to limit public funding for cricket if the sport is unable to show that anti-racism initiatives efforts are working, with the game under scrutiny following revelations by whistleblower and former player Azeem Rafiq.

The House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, which has been leading an investigation into racism in cricket, said ministers should act if the sport did not make “demonstrable progress on ridding racist behaviour from clubs and among spectators”.

In a report published on Friday, the committee said the England and Wales Cricket Board, the game’s domestic governing body, should develop a list of “indicators” that would be used to measure its performance in tackling racism and provide quarterly progress reports to the committee.

The committee said it had concluded that “not only is there racism in cricket, but that Yorkshire County Cricket Club [where Rafiq spent most of his career] and the England and Wales Cricket Board would have been aware of it”.

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Pressure is mounting on the ECB, which also funds the sport from the recreational level to the national team, to take action after Rafiq told the committee last November that racism is a “problem up and down the country” and detailed the abuse he had suffered at Yorkshire.

“Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian backgrounds . . . there were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant washers’. The word ‘P*ki’ was used constantly,” he said.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston has threatened to take away the ECB’s regulatory powers and create an independent regulator if the body is unable to take action.

Rafiq said the DCMS committee was taking “sensible action” and welcomed plans to hold the ECB to account on a quarterly basis.

“This shows just how seriously politicians are taking an issue that too many people in cricket ignored for so long,” said Rafiq. “The committee understands how important it is to clean-up the game.”

The ECB itself generates significant income, which helps to fund the sport. However, annual revenue fell by 9 per cent to £207m in the year to January 31, 2021. Administrative expenses rose by 16 per cent to £191m because the ECB increased funding to the sport to help it survive the pandemic. This resulted in a net loss of roughly £14.9m.

Its annual report for the year showed that the ECB received £2.1m of public funding, from the English Sports Council Lottery Fund and the Skills Funding Agency, down from almost £2.7m the previous year.

“Public funding for cricket must depend on real leadership and progress by the ECB to tackle abhorrent behaviour, not just in the dressing rooms, but also in the stands,” said Julian Knight, who chairs the DCMS committee.

“We put the ECB on notice that we expect regular updates delivered to this committee on progress being made,” he added.

Barry O’Brien, interim chair of the ECB, welcomed the recommendations and said the organisation was “determined to root out racism”, although it had already taken some action over the past three years.

“We agree that sharing regular, public updates on our progress is important to rebuilding trust in our sport,” he said.

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