Will this be a turning point for English cricket? I hope, but I doubt it

Cricket has always considered itself the idyllic English game. As George Orwell described it, “everyone plays with braces, where the blacksmith is likely to be called back in the middle of the sleeves for urgent work, and sometimes when the light starts to fade a ball thrown. for four kills a rabbit on the border “.

A game which, according to historian GM Trevelyan, would have prevented the French revolution if only the French aristocrats, like their English counterparts, played the game with their servants. Such is the appeal of this romantic image that in the 1990s, John Major, a big cricket fan, even nostalgically invoked it to describe the country.

Today, even Major would have to admit that this lyrical image is shattered by Azeem Rafiq’s dramatic testimony to the Digital, Culture and Media Committee of the endemic racism in Yorkshire cricket, the country’s most important cricket county. , and the admission by Roger Hutton, the former president, that he “fears” Yorkshire cricket is institutionally racist. Lord Patel, the new Yorkshire president, hopes it will be a watershed moment comparable to the murder of Stephen Lawrence for the Met Police.

I’m not so sure. The reason for caution is that English cricket has mastered the art of concealing its dark moments and presenting them in such a way that the game may seem far-sighted and more suited to the needs of society as opposed to the coarser game. work -class play, football.

So while the English took cricket to the West Indies and allowed Black into the team, the captain had to be white. The West Indies did not have a black captain until 1960, 32 years after its international debut. For 80 years, England played trial cricket with South Africa and even accepted the country’s dictation to select only white players for its squad. The South African tours in England were billed as bridge-building exercises – having been reassured by how people mingled in England, players returned and felt emboldened to relax apartheid.

Yorkshire has excelled at such subterfuge. For decades, this explained the lack of colored cricketers on the field that only those born in the vast acres were qualified to play for the county. When skeptics asked how, given that since World War II large groups of people from the subcontinent for whom gambling is a passion had settled in the county, none of their children had arrived in the county. Yorkshire – the explanation was that they had not played for the right clubs which were the nursery of the county. Against this background, it’s no surprise that the defense Gary Balance, the former Yorkshire captain, for using the ‘P’ word in referring to Rafiq, was that he was indulging in jokes.

However, what makes the current situation different is that cricketers of color are now ready to speak out about the racism they suffered, which the previous generation of cricketers were generally reluctant to do. This generation, despite the fact that it feels foreign, has the feeling of progressing in a team sport that it must endure in silence. Rafiq and more and more others do not share this attitude. Equally significant is the fact that the media are interested in writing about their experiences. In nearly half a century of sports journalism, I have never seen so many running stories on sports pages than last year.

When I first started in journalism in the 1970s I couldn’t persuade cricketers to talk about the racism they had suffered and sports writers were – in my experience – also reluctant to talk about it. give plenty of space to such stories. The murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement saw a drastic change in the way we view running in sports.

In some ways it should be easy to make changes in cricket. Unlike football, where the Premier League generates huge sums of money that it can challenge the Football Association, cricket counties would collapse without financial support from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), l body that manages the game. The ECB has only to turn off the tap.

But this is where the problem lies. Cricket, despite all its talk about diversity – and all counties including Yorkshire have departments for equality, inclusion and diversity – remains a largely white sport and with an English men’s team that is primarily educated in public school and much less diverse than the ’80s and’ 90s teams.

Administrators firmly believe that we live in a post-racial world where no one sees the color – but gamers clearly believe otherwise. For cricket to change, this gap will need to be bridged. The history of cricket shows that change of a fundamental nature only occurs when imposed from above. In 1970, it was only after intervention by then Home Secretary James Callaghan that the cricket authorities canceled the South African cricket tour of that country. It might require a similar government intervention for the game to be forced to face racism.

Should this prove to be the case, these select committee hearings will mark one of the defining moments in the long history of English football.

“The Impossible Dream: Will We One Day Have a Non-Racial Sports World? By Mihir Bose to be published by Birlinn

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