Tom Harrison calls racism scandal an ‘earthquake’ as ECB unveils action plan

  • 12-point plan aims to increase diversity throughout game
  • ECB chief Harrison says Rafiq testimony will accelerate change

Tom Harrison, the England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive, insists he is still the right man to navigate the sport through the racism scandal he has described as an earthquake set off by Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of systemic discrimination at Yorkshire.

Speaking after the publication on Friday of the ECB’s 12-point action plan to address diversity in the sport, Harrison said he had no intention of resigning despite fierce criticism and pressure from MPs and the government following Rafiq’s moving testimony in parliament earlier this month.

“I am so committed to sorting this issue with the game,” he said. “I understand I have the backing of the game and I am very motivated to make sure we provide this more welcoming environment across our sport for everybody. That is something I’ve felt passionately about since the moment I walked into this job and I’m not going to walk away from that now.

“The last few weeks have been very, very tough for cricket. It feels like an earthquake has hit us.

“The most damning part of Azeem’s testimony was he didn’t want his son to be part of the game. For someone in my job that’s the most difficult thing you can hear.

“It’s sad, frankly, but I think sometimes an earthquake can provide the opportunity to accelerate years and years of change in a very quick period of time. Perhaps this has been the shock that is going to give us the opportunity to bring this game together once and for all.”

However, within minutes of the publication of the ECB’s action plan, shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Jo Stevens, said: “The report today is a reminder of previous ECB failures to get a grip on the racism scandal engulfing cricket.

Many of the measures listed should have been in place years ago.

“Players, staff and fans will struggle to have faith in a process which is being overseen by the same people who have stood by for so long. What we need is a proper independent inquiry to encourage victims to come forward for real changes to be made across cricket.”

Harrison is due to share a bonus of £2.1m with other senior ECB executives if he remains in his job when a five-year long-term incentive plan matures next year. Asked whether it was appropriate for that bonus to still be paid despite the damage sustained to cricket’s reputation in recent weeks, Harrison said: “It’s a matter for the board. Look, that is part of the contract I signed to join the ECB many years ago.”

Cricket commits to action plan to tackle racism and all forms of discrimination.

Read more ⬇️

— England and Wales Cricket Board (@ECB_cricket) November 26, 2021

The ECB plan unveiled on Friday comprises 12 action points grouped under five key areas: education, dressing-room culture, diversity of talent pathways, environments and governance.

As the Guardian revealed on Tuesday, a key stumbling block that delayed the announcement from its proposed Wednesday launch was a point that required boards to diversify their leadership boards by April, with at least 30% of every county board required to be made up of women or “representative ethnicity” of the area.

When the plan was announced on Friday, it acknowledged the difficulties, saying: “Compliance will be subject to a ‘comply or explain’ provision to ensure Counties can respect their own governance processes in making the required change,”

Other key proposals include continuous diversity training for all players, staff, umpires and coaches from elite level to local clubs and tough action against discriminatory crowd behaviour, and the availability of alcohol-free areas, prayer areas and halal food at all county grounds to create a welcoming environment for all.

Harrison admitted: “I know there are people who feel we should have gone further and I’m probably in that camp myself but we have to get everyone to agree to every one of these commitments in full.”

There will also be a full review of dressing-room culture in all men’s and women’s professional teams, including at England level.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison has launched the action plan as “a collective response within the game” to the ongoing racism scandal. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Commenting on the England men’s team, whose players preparing for the Ashes have not spoken to the UK media since Rafiq’s appearance in parliament on 16 November, Harrison said: “I know the impact of recent events has been embraced in full by the England men overseas in Australia. They’ve spoken about it in positive ways – how they continue to evolve dressing-room culture to effectively reflect some of the feeling that’s coming out of the conversation in the game at the moment.

“You’re seeing the leaders of that dressing room leading that conversation.”

There will also be a governance review of part of this action plan that Harrison admitted could see an independent regulator appointed to oversee cricket – a job the ECB currently does as well as promoting the game. “If a governance review comes back with a recommendation you have to have a very good reason not to go along with it,” he said.

The ECB’s plan did garner support from the sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, who tweeted: “I welcome the action from the ECB in the wake of the treatment of Azeem Rafiq and other recent revelations. We will now work closely with them to ensure that all measures, including a review of governance structures, are acted upon and racism in cricket is stamped out for good.”

Contributor

Chris Stocks

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
English cricket offers Azeem Rafiq apology and promises action on racism
English cricket issued an unreserved apology to Azeem Rafiq, saying the racism he experienced was a blight on the game

Sean Ingle

19, Nov, 2021 @6:44 PM

Article image
Tom Harrison facing county revolt over ECB’s handling of racism scandal
Tom Harrison faces the prospect of a county rebellion and possible calls to resign amid growing anger over the England and Wales Cricket Board’s handling of the Yorkshire racism scandal

Ali Martin

17, Nov, 2021 @7:55 PM

Article image
Cut English cricket’s funding over ‘deep-seated racism’, government urged
A parliamentary inquiry into racism in cricket recommends the government should cut the sport’s funding unless the ECB shows it is serious about tackling the matter

Sean Ingle and Simon Burnton

14, Jan, 2022 @12:01 AM

Article image
Yorkshire CCC are institutionally racist. For me there is no other conclusion | Jonathan Liew
The investigation panel may not have found sufficient evidence of racism at the club, but how else can the Azeem Rafiq saga be viewed?

Jonathan Liew

01, Nov, 2021 @10:00 PM

Article image
Alex Hales pictured in blackface as English cricket handed a new blow
English cricket has taken another blow after the Azeem Rafiq revelations with Alex Hales pictured in blackface at a New Year’s Eve party

Sean Ingle

19, Nov, 2021 @12:18 AM

Article image
Cricket has made a start in tackling discrimination – it must see it through | Chris Grant
Though it has shied away from admitting structural racism, English cricket has acknowledged the need for wholesale reform. It’s a start

Chris Grant

26, Nov, 2021 @8:00 PM

Article image
When it comes to racism in cricket, the ECB is the accused not the judge | Barney Ronay
The ECB does not get to act surprised at this week’s events, to dance away from responsibility – it has failed, repeatedly, to act

Barney Ronay

05, Nov, 2021 @8:30 PM

Article image
Eoin Morgan says Yorkshire racism allegations must be tackled ‘head-on’
Eoin Morgan, captaining England at the T20 World Cup, said the ECB’s removal of internationals from Headingley showed how seriously the issue was taken

Simon Burnton in Dubai

05, Nov, 2021 @11:37 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on Cricket and racism: Yorkshire’s shame must be a wake-up call | Editorial
Editorial: The failure of one of England’s most venerable sporting institutions to take action over racism must be punished

Editorial

03, Nov, 2021 @6:31 PM

Article image
Cricket can learn a lot about anti-racism from rugby league | Letters
Letters: Readers discuss the fallout from the racism allegations made against Yorkshire County Cricket Club

Letters

08, Nov, 2021 @6:07 PM