English cricket has come under fresh criticism for its attitudes towards racism and “outdated” stereotypes after the chairman of Middlesex, Mike O’Farrell, told parliament that the sport’s lack of diversity was down to black players preferring football and rugby and the Asian community prioritising education.
Azeem Rafiq and Ebony Rainford-Brent were among those to express their disbelief after O’Farrell suggested to a digital, culture, media and sport select committee hearing that it wasn’t cricket’s fault that more players from ethnic communities weren’t playing the game.
“The other thing in the diversity bit is that the football and rugby world becomes much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community,” explained O’Farrell.
“And in terms of the south Asian community, 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,” he added.
“Part of that is because it’s a rather more time-consuming sport than some others. So we’re finding that’s difficult.”
O’Farrell’s comments were similar to those made by former FA chairman Greg Clarke, who was forced to resign after telling the same committee in 2020 that south Asian people choose careers in IT over sport.
And they were immediately condemned by Rafiq, who gave explosive evidence to the same DCMS select committee in November where he described the game as “institutionally racist’”. “This has just confirmed what an endemic problem the game has,” he tweeted. “I actually can’t believe what I am listening to #GiveMeStrength.”
He later told Sky Sports: “Listening to some of his narratives, I’ve got a message for him: we all love cricket. This narrative that we’ve been hearing for a long time about the Asian people wanting to go study – that’s because we’ve not been made to feel welcome in our workspaces …”
Meanwhile, the former England player Rainford-Brent, whose ACE Programme Charity aims to engage young people of African and Caribbean heritage, described O’Farrell’s comments as “just painful”.
“Honestly these outdated views in the game are exactly why we are in this position,” she added. “Unfortunately the decision makers hold on to these myths. ‘The Black community only likes football, and [the] Asian community is only interested in education’. Seriously, the game deserves better.”
O’Farrell later apologised in a statement, saying that he was “devastated” that the lack of clarity and context in his answers had led to the “conclusions some have made”.
“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,” he said.
“Cricket has to take responsibility for these failings. 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.”
Earlier, during the hearing, another senior cricket executive, the Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove, was forced to deny allegations that he had played down the racism furore in the sport.
Kevin Brennan MP had told him he had heard an allegation that, at a 19 November chairs meeting at The Oval, Bransgrove had said: “The trouble is that they’ve forgotten the value of white men.”
Bransgrove was also alleged to have said: “I know what racism is like. I’m a white man over 60.” However, the executive said in response: “Absolute nonsense.” MPs were also told that, in some cases, clubs were “overachieving” on tackling discrimination – prompting more disbelief from Rafiq, who tweeted: “Overachieving? Am I hearing this?”
The ECB also faced difficult questions about its response to the resignation of Leicester chair Mehmooda Duke, who had been the only female chair before leaving the county in November 2019. The chair of the committee Julian Knight MP told the ECB that he had spoken to Duke, and intimated that she had resigned because of cricket’s failure to tackle racism.
“Do you think that it’s rather disturbing that a time when you talk about extra diversity on the board, the one person who is a chair from an ethnic minority decides to leave as a result of inaction in this area?” Knight said. “That’s a hammer blow to the ambitions of the ECB.”
The ECB refused to answer that question and another from Brennan over whether Duke felt “intimidated, coerced, and manoeuvred by the ECB?” – citing confidentiality in both cases.
However, when the deputy chairman of the ECB, Barry O’Brien, was asked whether Duke was “unhappy in any way with any of your personal dealings with her in the way that you’ve handled her concerns?” he replied: “Yeah. She may have been.”
Meanwhile, the ECB chose Tuesday to confirm that Clare Connor will lead a review into dressing-room culture in professional men’s and women’s cricket as part of a bid to tackle racism and discrimination.
Connor, the ECB’s managing director of women’s cricket and a former England captain, will begin her review in February and make recommendations “to address discriminatory attitudes and behaviours”.
The ECB has previously published a five-point plan, including “12 tangible actions”, and pledged £25m over five years to combat the issues of race and discrimination.