Isa Guha: ‘Change is the only constant’
Isa Guha, the broadcaster and former England cricketer, has stepped in as guest editor for the latest issue of Wisden Cricket Monthly. Here she outlines how she believes cricket can be a force for good in wider society if it can face up to its own problems.
This game that we love has gone through turmoil in recent years. For those of us involved in it, wanting to see it thrive, it’s been upsetting to watch. You will have heard and read the stories by now. Stories of deep personal anguish, carrying the echoes of so many others. Certain stories and names have come to dominate the headlines, and my heart goes out to the families of all involved.
While Azeem Rafiq, by his own admission, has had failings which have affected others, he has been vindicated with seven charges upheld in his case against Yorkshire. And it can’t be denied that the defiance he’s shown has put a spotlight on racism and the failings of institutions. What he’s done has sparked change across the game and exposed the limits of its processes for anyone who has faced discrimination – from reporting mechanisms to cultures in working environments. It’s now a question of whether we as a game choose to follow through with meaningful action.
Through the publication of the impending ICEC report into the state of equity in cricket, we will get to hear the lived experiences of 4,000-plus people who came forward to contribute. The game is braced for it. It is essential that when the report finally lands, we don’t look away.
I want to believe that there is a willingness to tackle the culture of discrimination which threatens cricket’s integrity, but I am sadly aware that there is still resistance. Many see cricket as a chance to escape their everyday lives, so maybe when this topic is broached it feels like that carefree, happy place is being undermined. I understand that sentiment, but it is the exact same sentiment felt by those who have faced discrimination, who’ve had that same safe place turned sour by prejudice. For victims of discrimination, it is not the conversation about culture which is uncomfortable; it is the culture itself.
The talk is of change. The fear of it, and the need for it. At the end of the day, change is the only constant, and while this can be unsettling it can also lead to positive outcomes for everyone.
While maintaining our more honourable traditions has great merit, cricket must look to leaders who will forge new traditions that can protect its future and the people in it. We are lucky to already have some fine examples of this in our game from individuals to organisations that have taken steps towards positive action. Throughout these pages, you’ll see many who have already been on their own personal journeys of change and are illuminating the path for others to follow.
As to my own experience – well, I’m sad to say that within various cricket environments I’ve been involved in, I’ve heard discriminatory comments – not just racism. Where have I heard them? All over. It’s an everyday thing – whether it’s subconscious bias or overt. Sometimes I’ve called it out, sometimes I’ve tried to encourage discussion so I’m aware of the nuances too, but sometimes I’ve not done anything at all. I’ve not had the strength to stand up and address it head on, even now after so many years in the game. And that haunts me.
It makes me ask why I couldn’t, as someone who feels more established in their environment, and so imagine being a player on the fringes in a dressing room now – not feeling free to speak up or trust in the mechanisms to report it. That’s where leaders, captains and coaches are so important – to drive a culture of no-tolerance towards overt discrimination, and to understand the importance of constructive dialogue around such issues. It’s a lot to ask, over and above scoring runs and taking wickets – which is hard enough in itself. But the future of cricket will be determined as much by the environments it creates as the athletic prowess of its best players.
I’ve been on my own journey with this, sometimes feeling a burden of responsibility. Yet I’ve come to realise that it’s OK not to have all the answers and that this is everybody’s conversation, whatever you look like, wherever you’re from, whatever you’ve seen or felt or heard. It’s also OK to find the space and time to make sense of it all and ask questions, without having to form an opinion immediately on social media.
Quite frankly, for the game to recover in the wake of the ICEC report – which will be damning – we must come together. It can’t just be a problem for a certain group of people to solve. There also needs to be space in all this for tolerance and forgiveness. Reconciliation is always possible with empathy.
People in the game have been caught up in these cases, and many of them have shown accountability for their actions and for that they should be afforded compassion, but it flows both ways. They also have the opportunity to use their voice for good and to influence those around them. So it becomes a question of what they choose to do with this responsibility.
Cricket doesn’t exist in a bubble. When I look at cricket and modern society, in some areas we’re living in the dark ages. At the same time, I want to be positive about the future. While cricket is undertaking a reckoning now, I truly believe it can be a real force for change in wider society and help lead other sports too, via the different communities it reaches. Our game has the opportunity to create change for the better and while the easiest thing might be to rip it up and start again, I believe the framework and solutions are there to do this. Ultimately it needs strong leadership and everyone working together.
Isa Guha is guest editor of issue 67 of Wisden Cricket Monthly, available to buy here.