The State of Cricket

We have been away for a few days staying with one of our sons and his family near London. I took the opportunity to spend a couple of days at The Kia Oval watching my home county, Lancashire, play Surrey in the County Championship. Three generations of the family (father, son, and grandson) attended the first day's play on Sunday 25th June 2023; it was extremely warm (30+ ℃) with blue skies and plenty of sunshine.

Photo 1: The Kia Oval before start of play (25th June 2023)

My son & I also attended the second day's play when the weather was, fortunately, a little more forgiving - broken clouds and temperatures in the low twenties.

Photo 2: The Kia Oval during the Surrey First Innings (26/6/23)

Two great days of entertainment, with both teams having periods of domination, but with Lancashire eventually victorious 😀 🏏

During the Surrey vs Lancashire match, the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) issued its report, Holding Up A Mirror To Cricket, stating that English (and Welsh) cricket suffers from widespread and deep-rooted racism, sexism, elitism and class-based discrimination at all levels of the game and urgently needs reform; for example, see here and here. It is not clear to me what, if any, is the difference between elitism and class-based discrimination. In Section 1.2 of the report, it specifically defines racism, sexism, and class-based discrimination and seems to include elitism under the latter. Maybe, elitism refers to the fact that private schools provide an inordinately large proportion of professional cricketers whereas class-based discrimination is the exclusion of lower socio-economic groups due to the cost of participation.

We went to watch our grandson play cricket for the under-14s of Trinity Mid-Whitgiftian Cricket Club on the Friday evening before the Lancs-Surrey game. He provided all his own kit (bat, pads, helmet, gloves, etc) which would have required a significant financial investment. However, I'm not sure whether this is a requirement for all junior members or whether lower-cost options exist; most certainly an issue if you have to provide all your own kit. I should also mention that the under-14s team included white and non-white players and a rather impressive female fast bowler.

I have absolutely no problem in accepting that all four (?) forms of discrimination occur throughout cricket and at all levels. My question is whether cricket is different from (i) other sports, and (ii) society in general. As far as I can tell, from only a limited reading of the report, these issues are not addressed. I would expect certain sports to be more prone to elitism and class-based discrimination; for example, golf, lacrosse, skiing, bobsleigh, modern pentathlon, and show jumping in addition to cricket. Regrettably, racism and sexism are still too prominent in all sports but I remain to be convinced cricket is significantly worse. Nevertheless, the ICEC recommendations should be implemented as soon as possible to rid, as far as possible, all discrimination in cricket.

My main issue with the report is its methodology and, hence, its conclusions, though I should state upfront that I have not read all 317 pages - maybe I will if I ever have sufficient free time. Do I think that racism, sexism and elitism are alive & kicking in the cricketing community - most definitely! My two qualifiers on that admission are (i) whether it is as widespread and deep-rooted as the ICEC claim, and (ii) whether it is more prevalent in cricket than in other sports or, indeed, the general population.

Much of the evidence was collected through an anonymous on-line survey - possibly one of the least reliable methods for garnering peoples' experiences. For example, the tendency to underestimate levels of alcohol consumption and higher participation of persons with a complaint or grievance. A total of 4156 responses were received - many more than had been expected. To my mind, however, 4156 is quite a small number (less than 1.2 %) when compared to the number of people (353,000) who regularly played cricket (at least twice a month) in England in 2022. I believe this makes it difficult to state, as the ICEC does, that all forms of discrimination are widespread and deep-rooted in cricket.

Half the respondents to the online survey reported experiencing discrimination in some form. This ratio needs to be taken with a pinch of salt when applied to the whole cricket community because (i) it is a self-reported survey with limited or no check on the validity of the responses, (ii) the relatively small number of respondents may not be representative of the whole, and (iii) the tendency for those with a negative experience to fill in the survey compared to those who did not experience discrimination.

In a recent study (that had nothing to do with cricket) reported in the Guardian, 60 % of Gypsy/Traveller people reported some form of racist assault as did more than 55 % of Jewish people. Here is another survey that reported 83% of people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups experienced discrimination in sports activities. It is not unusual, therefore, for such surveys to report high levels of racist abuse. In my opinion, these self-reporting surveys have very little quantitative value.

It is fortunate, therefore, that the ICEC also called for written evidence from cricketing bodies (e.g. the first-class counties) and organisations (e.g. ECB and MCC) that confirmed racism, sexism and elitism is an issue though, once again, the limited number of responses (96) should make you wary of applying any trends to the whole of cricket.

Accepting that racism and sexism are present in cricket is not difficult as these are also wide-ranging and deep-rooted societal ills. Cricket mimics life. The governing bodies of cricket (ECB, MCC and ICC) should review their processes and policies to ensure all forms of discrimination are barred. Elitism is a more difficult problem because it is not entirely within the realms of cricket to solve. School playing fields are being sold off and space is often not available in inner cities for cricket pitches.  So financial help will be necessary to make cricket more inclusive.

Discrimination is embedded in all societies - large and small - and societal norms change with time. The slow progress to a fairer and less discriminatory society is summarised in a colloquial version of Planck's Principle:

Society progresses one funeral at a time


Old ideas, customs, and habits change as the older generation is replaced by its younger contemporaries

If you can accept that there is only one biological race (the human race) then racism should disappear overnight. Religion and historical norms are largely responsible for the sexism that occurs today - this is changing slowly and we can surely speed up that change. I fear elitism and class-based discrimination will be the hardest to eradicate as these are part and parcel of how our existing societies (e.g. capitalism, socialism) operate.

Edit (13/7/23): Just read this in Private Eye (No 1602). The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) conducted an anonymous online survey in 2021 among its own players on LGBT issues.  75% of respondents reported the use of homophobic slurs by other players. Do we assume, therefore, that sexism is a bigger problem in tennis than in cricket? Hopefully, you would not rush to that conclusion based on an anonymous online survey especially considering the response, as far as I can tell, was 65 out of about 500!! In order to get useful statistics, make sure you are basing them on a representative sample.


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