Many of their recommendations have now been implemented as part of a new, wide-ranging action plan by the England and Wales Cricket Board. Below, the Leeds Beckett academics provide their response to the ECB's action plan.
For some time now it has been clear that the enthusiasm for cricket among Britain’s South Asian communities has not been used to best advantage by the formal cricketing authorities. Four years ago the ECB and Yorkshire Cricket commissioned us to conduct research in Bradford and Leeds with a view to addressing their need for a better understanding of the various South Asian communities and their relationship with cricket. The focus was on those involved in informal versions of the game, in parks, streets etc., without necessarily playing for clubs in the affiliated leagues of the Yorkshire Cricket Board, or watching the professional game South Asian Communities and Cricket - Leeds Beckett.
Consultations indicated that informal cricket within South Asian communities created a sense of belonging and the cultural solidarity hard to replicate in formal cricket structures. Page 92 of the Yorkshire Cricket Board Handbook stated that to be effective, the Cricket Partnership had to become proactive to counteract the identified barriers from the research to help support both informal cricket, e.g., from games played in car parks to small teams and clubs, and those wanting to spectate or be involved in cricket. After that report, the construction of a new cricket centre in Bradford was announced and Lord Patel of Bradford was appointed to the ECB’s Board of Directors.
Now the ECB has produced an 11-point action plan which addresses many of our original 21 recommendations. As is the way with many such initiatives, some aspects have been in place for a while, like the attention to ‘core cities’. It is through a now expanded set of 10 core cities that the Action Plan will focus because ECB has identified that in those local authorities it can reach 61 per cent of the South Asian population across England and Wales, though four are not actually cities and none are in Wales. This last point is not pure pedantry as our work for Sport Wales on sport amongst Black and minority ethnic groups suggested similar measures might be welcome there.
Significantly, this work also indicated that accessibility should not be considered solely in geographic terms. Even where facilities are located in close proximity to communities, barriers such as price and negative perceptions of the organisation and or facilities highlighted a need for stakeholders to actively engage with local communities to increase participation. In the media there has been a lot of attention on the proposed capital investment through the provision of facilities in urban areas: at least 20 indoor centres; 1000 non-turf pitches; and installing or upgrading 100 turf pitches.
However, likely to be at least as important according to our research are ‘softer measures’ addressing the general environment of the game, especially through format, the diversity of coaching staff and efficient communications.
Our research showed that despite efforts to challenge it, perceptions of racism still act as a deterrent to South Asian communities participating in the game; and despite the successes of the England women’s team, cricket is still not seen as being welcoming to women. The Action Plan attempts to address both those through, for example, unconscious bias training for all ECB employees and the provision of more women only opportunities to play and take coaching courses.
The ECB report recognises that it is the shorter format and less formal versions of the game that are likely to capture the interest of South Asian communities and so ‘the offer’ will be widened. Moreover, the report says of the ECB’s facilities initiative that it is intended ‘to provide easy access, high quality but low-cost places to play for urban communities all year round, matched to the type and amount of cricket that the community want to play’ (our emphasis).
The ECB plans to ‘support the progression of [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] coaches working in the professional game by adopting the 'Rooney Rule' for all coaching jobs across the England teams, with a 2-3 year ambition to introduce this across the County game’. This Rooney Rule requires that, assuming they are appropriately qualified, at least one BAME candidate will be interviewed for all new coaching positions with the England team. The intention is that over the next two or three years this will be rolled out across the first class counties. This is a welcome development because many of the people we spoke to during our work into the barriers facing South Asian cricket coaches, identified an inability to progress into higher level coaching roles as a significant deterrent to enter coaching in the first place.
However, it remains unclear to us why i) they are limiting it to the England structure? ii) this should be restricted to coaching? iii) how this will be monitored and evaluated?, and iv) what sanctions will apply if it is not implemented? Hylton outlines in his book Contesting ‘Race’ and Sport: Shaming the colour line that the Rooney Rule gains in America have been lost due to being poorly policed after its initial successes. The less white the game looks as a whole, the more it is likely to appeal to minority ethnic groups.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the report in this regard is a recognition that it is not just about communicating the ECB message to South Asian communities, but also about listening to messages coming from those communities. Although often hidden behind headlines of infrastructure investment and media soundbites, partnership research such as that commissioned by the ECB and Sport Wales demonstrates how universities and external organisations can work together to build an evidence base from which to inform policy and practice.
Our collective efforts to facilitate societal change through sport needs to begin with excellent quality insight.
- ECB (2018) Making Cricket a Game for Everyone: Engaging South Asian Communities. An ECB Action Plan 2018. London: ECB.
- The ECB Action Plan can be downloaded from here: ecb.co.uk/news/422193.
- Fletcher, T., Piggott, D., North, J., Hylton, K., Gilbert, S. and Norman, L. (2014). London: England and Wales Cricket Board.
Exploring the barriers to South Asian cricket players’ entry and progression in coaching report to the ECB can be downloaded here.
- Hylton, K., Long, J., Fletcher, T. and Ormerod, N. (2015) South Asian Communities and Cricket (Bradford and Leeds). Report to the Yorkshire Cricket Partnership from the Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure: Leeds.
- The Leeds Beckett South Asian Communities and Cricket (Bradford and Leeds) report to the Yorkshire Cricket Partnership can be downloaded from here: eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/1341
- Long, J., Dashper, K., Fletcher and Ormerod, N. (2015) Understanding participation and non-participation in sport amongst Black and minority ethnic groups in Wales. Report to Sport Wales from the Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure. Cardiff: Sport Wales.
- The Understanding participation and non-participation in sport amongst Black and minority ethnic groups in Wales report to Sport Wales can be downloaded from here: eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/1725