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Racism In English Cricket

‘The game deserves better’ – Middlesex chairman criticised for comments in DCMS committee hearing on racism in cricket

by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

Middlesex chairman Mike O’Farrell has come under criticism for his testimony to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in a hearing discussing racism in cricket.

The ECB announced a 12-point action plan to tackle racism in cricket last November after former Yorkshire captain Azeem Rafiq detailed his experiences of racial abuse at the club to the DCMS committee.

O’Farrell was present alongside the chairmen from Glamorgan, Yorkshire and Hampshire on Tuesday to speak to the committee, and in response to questioning from MP Julian Knight over Middlesex’s record on diversity, he suggested that the difficulty in producing more cricketers from an Afro-Caribbean background was because others sports were “much more attractive”.

“The football and rugby world becomes much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community,” said O’Farrell.

He went on to add: “In terms of the South Asian community, there is a moment where we’re finding that they do not want necessarily to commit the same time that is necessary to go to the next step because they sometimes prefer to go into other educational fields and then cricket becomes secondary.

“And part of that is because it’s a rather more time-consuming sport than some others. So we’re finding that’s difficult. That’s changing with the Twenty20 and the one-day game, but we are finding that we’re coming full circle because the game is getting more exposed, there’s much more choice, much more variations in the game and, therefore, the South Asian community – young men and particularly women – are finding this a much more attractive sport.”

Ebony Rainford-Brent – the first black woman to play for England and chair of the ACE Programme, a charity aiming to address the decline of black British professional cricketers – criticised O’Farrell’s comments.

“Honestly these outdated views in the game are exactly why we are in this position,” she said on Twitter. “Unfortunately the decision makers hold onto these myths. ‘The Black community only like football, and asian community only interested in education’ Seriously the game deserves better.”

BBC TMS commentator Aatif Nawaz said: “As a lifelong fan of Middlesex Cricket, it’s bitterly disappointing it is [sic] to hear those comments from our Chair this morning. Desperately out of touch, making excuses rather than offering solutions. London is too diverse a place for administrators to lean on outdated stereotypes.

“I’m sorry Mike. This doesn’t hold up. I know many parents of South-Asian heritage in Middlesex who’d tell you the opposite is true. Their cricket-obsessed kids consistently neglect academia to play for their clubs. And it’s very possible to balance both. Feels like an excuse…”

O’Farrell went on to apologise for his comments in a statement. “First and foremost, I wish to offer my wholehearted apologies for the misunderstanding that my comments made at this morning’s DCMS Select Committee hearing have evidently caused,” he said.

“I wholly accept that this misunderstanding is entirely down to my own lack of clarity and context in the answers I provided, and I am devastated that my comments have led to the conclusions some have made.

“For the purposes of clarification, I was aiming to make the point that as a game, cricket has failed a generation of young cricketers, in systematically failing to provide them with the same opportunities that other sports and sectors so successfully provide.

“Cricket has to take responsibility for these failings and must learn that until we make the game an attractive proposition for youngsters of all backgrounds to continue through the pathway into the professional game, much like other sports and sectors are doing, the game won’t make the progress it needs to.

“We at Middlesex are no different. We have an Academy side that contains in excess of 60% British born Asian and black young cricketers, and we must take responsibility for ensuring that the route into the professional game is as accessible and appealing as other sports or opportunities.

“I speak on behalf of the entire Club in saying that our desire is to see a first eleven walking out to play for the Club which is truly reflective of the broadly diverse county that Middlesex is today and that we will do all within our power to make that happen.

“Once again I apologise for any upset or hurt my earlier comments may have caused, that was most definitely not my intention.”

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