English cricket boss Tom Harrison believes the domestic game is nearing an emergency over its failure to address diversity issues and institutional racism.
Harrison, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), was questioned by members of a British parliamentary committee on Tuesday after former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq gave his account of the troubling issues of racism within the domestic game.
Rafiq, who is of Pakistani descent and is a former captain of the England Under-19s, said in September 2020 that he had received racist abuse and was made to feel like an outsider at Yorkshire and that he had even contemplated suicide.
Rafiq claimed racists slurs within the club made his life ‘hell’, and frequent racist comments left the bowler feeling ‘isolated and humiliated’.
Yorkshire’s response to an independent report into Rafiq’s allegations led to wide criticism of the club, with chairman Roger Hutton stepping down amid the outrage and the ECB suspending the club from hosting international or major matches.
Harrison told the committee the handling of the report suggested institutional racism was evident within the club – as well as within the wider national game.
“We’ve been aware of the importance of this agenda – not just racism, but diversity and equality,” Harrison said. “What we’ve struggled with is getting our first-class game to wake up.
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“If we’re not in an emergency, we’re approaching one.”
Harrison commended Rafiq’s bravery and courage in speaking out about his treatment at Yorkshire while addressing members of the government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
“We need to start to look at dressing room culture throughout the country,” Harrison continued.
“There’s a huge effort on this from the ECB but it takes time to trickle through.”
Rafiq, who was raised in Barnsley, told panel members he does not want his son to play cricket following his own traumatic experiences of racism.
When questioned over the damage the racist allegations have done to the perception of English cricket, Harrison said: “I’d say please understand that we’re really sorry for the experiences you may have been through trying to experience cricket in this country.
“We know we may have let you down. We’ll fix it fast. We know the survival of our sport depends on it.
“We’ll transform this game very quickly.”
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