carnegieXchange: School of Sport

Tackling diversity and inclusion in English cricket

PhD candidate within the Centre for Social Justice in Sport and Society, Becky Fairlie-Clark, discusses equality, diversity and inclusion in cricket. She invites us to think of the important steps that need to be taken.

Large hand holding a cricket bat

The fact that Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent were awarded a BAFTA for their work on Sky Sports calling for an end to institutional racism in cricket following the murder of George Floyd isn’t something to be underestimated. The experiences and perceptions of cricket within the black community - who once lit up and filled grounds (the famous scenes after a West Indies cricket series win over England at the Oval in 1984 for example) - and how and why these have changed had largely gone unspoken about. Until now.

Colin Babb in his book They Gave the Crowd Plenty Fun (2015) did take a deep dive into West Indian Cricket and the Caribbean diaspora from the beginning of mass immigration to Britain in the 1950’s to now. Grabb comments that in the 1960’s and 1970’s: “The West Indies cricket team provided a much-needed source of self-esteem, ambition and a powerful symbol of pan-Caribbean nationhood.”

This sense of identity and belonging created by cricket was apparent for many years but Babb notes that this began to change in the mid to late 1990’s. He details many reasons including amongst others, lacklustre team performances (by the West Indies), expensive tickets, low availability of pay-on-the-gate tickets and the importance of other sports and industries offering a greater chance to succeed as contributing factors to how cricket found itself in this position.   

Over recent years, cricket has begun to recognise it has a diversity and inclusion problem – just look at ‘Inspiring Generations’, the ECB’s Strategy for Cricket 2020-2025 which says: “Whilst a popular sport, cricket appeals to a narrow demographic of our increasingly urban, modern, and diverse society. We must do more to encourage a broader cross-section of people to engage with cricket.”

Some strategies and initiatives are underway, not least the African-Caribbean Engagement Programme set up by Ebony Rainford-Brent to encourage young black youngsters to get into cricket and originally working within London at the Oval but now extended to Edgbaston and soon to be Bristol. The Cricket Supporters’ Association is also undertaking work with The Voice to look at the role cricket does or doesn’t play from a spectating and engagement point of view.

But for me, it was the actual calling out of institutional racism which made this piece stand out and should make cricket reflect on what’s been allowed to happen across all levels of the game – from playing recreational cricket to watching an international test match and the impact this has had in terms of participation and fan engagement.

You can’t help but notice when looking at the background of the professional players (there has only been one England-born black player playing test cricket since 2004), examining a crowd at an England test match or a T20 Blast match that you don’t see the mixture of communities that was once the norm. Or that despite all this heritage and history, there are no black CEOs of any of the FCC’s (there’s only one woman as well, as it goes) or any black men or women in the Executive at the ECB.

This then leads to the question, since when did cricket ‘belong’ to some and not to others? When did cricket stop being a game for all, and how is it that only some people with potentially similar backgrounds and experiences are leading the game? Where are the role models for kids and adults to identify with? My Professional Doctorate is examining the governance of the sport and how this impacts equality, diversity, and inclusion – if a few potentially similar people have control, then how can cricket be anything but a game for them and not for all? Anyhow, can different experiences and voices be heard?

As with almost everything in life, there isn’t one single answer or one contributing factor, but I need to understand how cricket can be different. How it can change, and how we make that happen.

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