Who Watches The Watchmen?

Despite England making a semi final appearance in the T20 World Cup, the English media (cricket and otherwise) has been focussed on the sordid goings on at Yorkshire County Cricket Club. This is tragic because this situation was eminently avoidable. It’s difficult to comprehend just how many things must have gone wrong for things to reach this point.

Yorkshire CCC are, deservedly, getting a kicking. If you sent eight men to sabotage an organisation from within, they would struggle to do so more effectively than the Yorkshire CCC board in the past year. Their ignorance was seemingly only matched by their arrogance. As each revelation came out, they just kept digging themselves deeper and deeper. They were clearly incapable of running a cricket club.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison has watched from the sidelines whilst this slow motion trainwreck has taken place and done sweet fuck all. He has defended his inactions with the following statement:

“What we were asked to do was join the Yorkshire panel to be part of the investigation, which clearly we cannot do. We are the regulator, we either run the investigation in its entirety ourselves or we let our stakeholders run an investigation in the entirety itself.”

Let us take one single aspect of Azeem Rafiq’s experience: In August 2018, he made several complaints to Yorkshire CCC officials at a meeting attended by a PCA representative. This was reported in the Guardian (and quite possibly elsewhere), two years later in September 2020. That is also when the Yorkshire CCC investigation into Rafiq’s allegations began. The ECB’s Anti-Discrimination Code states that it is a breach of the code for an organisation to “fail to provide an effective, timely and proportionate response.” Yorkshire CCC literally did nothing for two whole years. There could not be a clearer breach of the ECB’s code. Nor, frankly, of basic human decency.

It is a very simple charge to prove, with independent witnesses. There is no reason why this specific matter could not have been dealt with by the ECB immediately after it was first reported, rather than waiting over a year. The ECB instead chose to wait until after the ‘independent’ report was completed. When that started, it was due to be finished within about two months. Instead, the final report wasn’t delivered to Yorkshire CCC for just under a year. Even when that happened, the ECB granted Yorkshire CCC a full two months to hand over the report.

No aspect of this has been conducted in an effective, timely, or proportionate manner. Not by Yorkshire CCC and, crucially, not by the ECB. If the “regulator” is not minded to follow its own code of conduct, why would any of the clubs it is purporting to regulate?

Speaking of the ECB’s Anti-Discrimination Code, it is very interesting to compare it to their Anti-Corruption Code. In matters of matchfixing and gambling, it is considered a serious and explicit offence to refuse to cooperate with an investigation or fail to report an approach which you have witnessed. Now consider how many players, coaches and administrators refused to help the Yorkshire racism investigation. If they had acted in this way in a matchfixing inquiry, they could face up to a five year ban. It is clear, from both the text of the rules and the application of the rules, that the ECB place almost no importance of the issue of racism within the sport compared to the threat of intentionally losing a match.

This is not to say that the ECB have done nothing to combat racism. They required that the England team wore t-shirts with the motto “We stand together against racism”. They tweeted a lot about the ACE Programme. They promoted Black and Asian players disproportionately often before and during The Hundred. Such PR can be important. The idea that you ‘fake it until you make it’ with regards to equality isn’t entirely ridiculous. There will have been Black and Asian parents and children who will have gone to their local cricket clubs after the various promotions, press articles and social media posts that the ECB have offered in recent years. Marketing is fine, but it also has to be backed up by real action to be worth a damn. All of those campaigns, including the most recent #BlackHistoryMonth posts, have now been overwhelmed by reporting on Yorkshire CCC.

Let us not forget that the ECB have had their own issues regarding racism being discussed in the media. Ismail Dawood, John Holder and Devon Malcolm have highlighted that the ECB has not added a single Black or Asian to the first-class umpire and match umpire lists since it was formed in 1997. Their handling of past cases of racist abuse has also been in the spotlight. Although England bowler Craig Overton and Yorkshire head coach Andrew Gale were punished for on-field racist abuse, both were found guilty of a lesser offence. The ECB has never publicly explained why both players didn’t face the more serious Level 2 charge of racially abusing an opponent, with the greater penalties that would apply. In fact, Ollie Robinson might be the only person ever to be punished by the ECB where racism was considered an aggravating factor in his punishment.

Given Tom Harrison’s assertion that the ECB either runs investigations itself or lets the counties do so, one might wonder whether any action took place regarding allegations of racism within county dressing rooms made by Michael Carberry and Ebony Rainford-Brent, amongst others. Outside of matters relating to Azeem Rafiq and Yorkshire CCC, there hadn’t been any mention of investigations by other counties or the ECB in the press until after politicians started intervening.

Which brings us to the title of the post: Who watches the watchmen? The ECB has been at best passive when faced with evidence of racism within English cricket, and have arguably been complicit in suppressing and minimising the reports that have made it into public view. Given that they are (or consider themselves) the regulator of English cricket, who regulates them?

The answer, it appears, is the counties. The ECB is overseen by its 41 members, with representatives from the 18 First Class Counties, the 21 Cricket Boards of the non-First-Class Counties, the National Counties Cricket Association and the MCC. This would appear at first glance to be a colossal conflict of interest for a body which is supposed to act as regulator for the counties. If the Yorkshire CCC board’s reluctance to see the experiences of Rafiq as racist abuse is respresentative of other counties, and there’s little reason to suppose this is not the case, it isn’t surprising that the ECB apparently considers dealing with such issues as a very low priority.

The circular structure of English cricket, with the ECB both governing and being governed by the counties, means that the counties are essentially self-regulated. They have the power to set the rules, decide what the punishments will be, and who will be allowed to judge them. There is also no one who people can escalate their complaint to if the ECB fails to thoroughly investigate allegations made to or about them.

I believe that this inherent flaw within the ECB cannot be remedied without changing its entire structure. Fundamentally, the ECB is supposed to be run for the good of cricket at all levels within England and Wales but there is no one ensuring that they do this. They make decisions with no consistency, and they also have the ability to suppress or selectively release information in order to support whichever argument they are making. At this moment in time, only Parliament and the DCMS committee seemingly have the ability to hold them to account.

In order to address this, I would form a board of trustees to challenge the ECB. It would contain representatives from all aspects of the sport that the ECB governs, from fans to players (through organisations such as the Cricket Supporters Association and the Professional Cricketers Association), from amateur to professional, from men’s to women’s cricket. They could have monthly meetings with the ECB board, so that the board can justify their actions (or inaction). If they are not satisfied with what they hear, or receive a complaint regarding the ECB, they could have the power to investigate and, if necessary, punish wrongdoing.

There is no doubt that the ECB (and many counties) will be dealing quickly and firmly with allegations of racism in the near term, with even minor accusations becoming national news. However, the attention of the media will largely stray elsewhere and I see few reasons to think that they won’t revert back to their previous pattern of minimising and hiding complaints. If fundamental change is going to occur, it must happen now. Otherwise, in a few years, English cricket will likely go through this ordeal all over again.

Once is enough.


18 thoughts on “Who Watches The Watchmen?

  1. Aden Biddle Nov 14, 2021 / 11:38 am

    This is something about sports in general but cricket it is amplified, those of us who play cricket the most at recreational level have no say in how its run. I would point out that the ECB has no role in regulating recreational cricket as the Chairman comments from South Yorkshire show. As a club player I see no real impact from the ECB at all nor do I see any aspect of this regulation such as creating unified playing conditions for leagues like the FA does. Sport needs to make money but to the vast majority of people it isn’t a business it is effectively a public wellness organisation. I would volunteer to be on a local cricket committee but currently any tie I have attempted to aid or assist administration I am up against out of touch aged league reps etc who pretty much amplify the issues of the last 12 months. Forward thinking progressive recreational cricket administration is out there but those people have to fight really har to be heard because people presiding over their little kingdom are completely unregulated by the ECB.


    • dannycricket Nov 14, 2021 / 11:58 am

      According to the ECB’s Anti Discrimination Code, it applies to “All County Cricket Boards, First Class Counties, the National Counties, leagues, clubs and other
      organisations under the jurisdiction of the ECB or its Members” and they all “must adopt and enforce the Code.”

      So ECB-affiliated leagues and clubs are, in theory, bound by the same rules as the counties and the ECB themselves. However, as I have pointed out, the ECB chooses not to investigate or enforce anything related to this code so complaining to them is going to be pointless.


      • Aden Biddle Nov 14, 2021 / 12:10 pm

        Not to mention the fact that in local cricket your bound by geography to sometimes one league so the futility is doubled because not only do you know full well the ECB are not “regulating” players end up frozen out completely.
        I like the comparison to betting given how many club games are live streamed now and there has been lots stuff come out about this to make people aware of the dangers of that and safeguarding. This fiasco inexorably damages recreational cricket as people won’t take up the game or bring juniors to training on Fridays but as we know the ECB won’t care as all their payers come from private schools anyway.


  2. andrewrdow Nov 14, 2021 / 4:34 pm

    Were the comments made by Ollie Robinson even made when he was subject to ECB jurisdiction?

    He first played a second XI game for Kent in 2015, yet the witch hunt was backdated to cover 2tweets made in 2012.

    However, when something happens to Yorkshire, a county with which Colin Graves is connected…. better tread carefully.


    • dannycricket Nov 14, 2021 / 5:10 pm

      You’re looking at wicketkeeper Ollie Robinson rather than bowler Ollie Robinson. He played Kent 2nd XI games in 2012, Yorkshire 2nd XI in 2013-14, and Hampshire 2nd XI at the end of 2014. I think that largely covers the time of his tweets, although it’s still questionable whether the ECB had jurisdiction. After all, as I say, Robinson appears to be the only person investigated by the ECB in this manner. We now know that the ECB had received reports about other people (the Essex CCC chairman, for example), and done nothing. What happened to him was far beyond anything they have done before and since, and so could be considered open to challenge.

      On the other hand, I’d suspect Robinson would rather let it lie and not bring up his old tweets ever again.


    • Marek Nov 14, 2021 / 5:23 pm

      Would this be the same Ollie E Robinson who Cricinfo’s stats page lists as playing five games for Kent 2nds in 2012?!

      Don’t let your rush to uncover a witch hunt get in the way of facts now…


  3. Marek Nov 14, 2021 / 6:57 pm

    One thing that strikes me is how reactive rather than proactive the ECB are in this.

    Taking that into account, a lot of their, erm, reactions fall into place. Robinson–big furore in the tabloids in the middle of a test match=immediate reaction. Follow-up reports on Indian social media which didn’t have a whole lot of legs=not much reaction. (The most interesting thing to me with regard to Robinson is not so much how it compares to Gale and Overton but to Bess and Archer–both of whose tweets were equally offensive, if much less numerous, made at a similar time and at similar ages, and revealed in the same week-…and produced precisely no reaction from the ECB). Bit of argy-bargy in a county game that no-one was watching=referral to the CDC and no press releases.

    Racist language before BLM=sweet ECB reaction. Racist language after BLM=big reaction. Homophobic or sexist language=a bit of gentle hand-wringing but no censure (even for Robinson–I remember Lizzie Ammon tweeting at the time about how his racist language seemed much more offensive to the ECB than his sexist language). Homophobic or sexist language if and when they become equally big deals–probably will incur much stiffer penalties.

    Rafiq case from 2018-2020=no reaction whatsoever. Rafiq 2020-21 (ie a bit of publicity but essentially George Dobell and Rafiq flogging what appeared to be a fairly dead horse)=promises of action but no action. Rafiq Nov 2021 (sponsors pulling out and those well-known fomenters of progressive revolution the Mail and the Telegraph saying it’s all gone too far)=we must act now if not yesterday!!!

    It’s all a bit “we don’t object to racism as long as the image of the sport isn’t suffering or people stop giving us money”. Which is probably not entirely surprising, since the ECB seems to see cricket as abusiness not a sport or a community.


    • dannycricket Nov 15, 2021 / 6:33 am

      It’s partly this, but also a clear absence of long term thinking. Had Yorkshire or the ECB managed to address matters themselves in 2008, or even 2018, then they wouldn’t be facing Parliament tomorrow after weeks of terrible headlines. Yorkshire CCC would certainly not be facing a financial meltdown. Firm, proactive action prevents these situations snowballing from what is slightly embarrassing to the club to an existential crisis. But, in both 2008 and 2018, both instead saw that punishing players for racism could cause some unfavourable headlines and chose to suppress it instead.


  4. Baz Nov 15, 2021 / 2:18 pm

    The ECB have spent decades and probably on the box tickng exercise that was/is Clubmark requiring grassroots clubs to demonstrate the governance and management practices that Yorkshire have sorely lacked.

    In addition the gatekeepers for the thousands of Club was their county board rep. Imagine Yorkshire signing off their community clubs equity and anti racism statements!!!


  5. Rob Nov 15, 2021 / 7:13 pm

    As reported / reviewed in the Spectator, today sees the publication of a review of England’s tour of the West Indies under Yorkshire’s Sir Len Hutton, the book having the title, “Those who cricket know”.

    We were led to believe that young Fred Trueman – a young Ollie Robinson – was not picked again for five or six years owing to certain comments and behaviours. Perhaps things have gone backwards in some respects?

    Against the racial undertones of that series, the first professional captain Sir Len was reported to have remarked in the context of an on field argument amongst the opposition, “and they want independence”. I doubt anyone will hold whatever remarks Vaughan might have made against when he eventually becomes knighted – in some ways it is a surprise neither he nor Graham Gooch have not been knighted (and Strauss and Cook have).

    I have seen some of the coaches in the South of England youth counties set ups in the past 10 or so years – call it a lack of education etcetera but they hardly be out of place in Yorkshire. The problem seems to be that there are too many non diverse faces in such set ups still

    But at least England thought they needed to send a first full strength squad on a non white country tour. Harrison and their ilk have only gone backwards in not seeing the need to visit other countries apart from the big three. Formal rules would only go so far in these circumstances, whatever Danny might opine.


    • dannycricket Nov 16, 2021 / 7:24 am

      I’m well aware of the limitations of formal rules. My point is more that the ECB *already has* formal rules on the subject but chooses to neither enforce nor abide by them. They appear to be a PR exercise. “Look at the clear, robust rules against discrimination we have!”, whilst they don’t actually investigate any allegations they become aware of (until the DCMS committee hearing was announced, at least).


    • Grenville Nov 17, 2021 / 4:27 am

      From this months edition of Race and Class:
      Forty years ago, future England captain Graham Gooch, led a ‘rebel tour’ to Apartheid South Africa, saying that breaking the sporting boycott was a ‘big, brave concept’ and justifying his well-remunerated involvement on the tour because in his view, politically, ‘to suddenly hand over control to the blacks could create a situation of pure farce’.


      • Grenville Nov 17, 2021 / 4:32 am

        Those quotes come from one of his autobiographies and have been discussed in books published by Mike Marqusee and Chris Searle. I don’t understand why the ‘rebel tourists’ aren’t excoriated. Actually I do, it’s because nobody in the upper echelons of English cricket thinks that there is anything wrong with calling all black people Kevin.


  6. Marek Nov 16, 2021 / 9:59 pm

    “By this stage Harrison, joined by two executives and the ECB board member Alan Dickinson, had already infuriated his interrogators with indirect answers that were riddled with corporate jargon”.

    Who’d have thought it?!


    • Rohan Nov 17, 2021 / 1:38 pm

      I can’t listen to the man, the jargon is bad enough, but also a feeling that what is being said is disingenuous and his organisation care nothing for fans of the sport, means I have no respect for the ECB at all.

      Disgusting response and behaviour from YCCC and ECB in relation to racism; appalling.


    • Marek Nov 17, 2021 / 10:17 pm

      Agree totally about Harrison.

      I posted the reference rather in jest but actually it makes my blood boil. If we’ve got rid of the most toxic man in English cricket in Colin Graves, then Harrison isn’t very far behind. His complete lack of relating to people as people when he speaks–which is incredibly arrogant and dismissive, a kind of “the plebs don’t matter to the likes of me” attitude–is repulsive.

      The sooner he goes, the better.

      Buit it’s not only him–those were my reservations about Patel (although he’s got off to a flier as far as i can see). There’s this whole class of don’t-give-a-fuck businessmen running much of the country [sic–they’re almost always men] basking in their million-grand salaries and, erm, bonuses for, often, fucking up royally the organisations they’re concerned with (I have a Co-op bank account, I know all about this…:-)

      And this language drives me up the wall–this vapid, nothingy, jargon-filled corporate blather which says absolutely nothing whilst pretending to be caring and profound. It’s all over both business and politics and, like racism, has an insidious effect: how is the next generation supposed to learn how to communicate in public-facing situations when these illiterate, callous smarmballs are their role models? It really needs to be called out for what it is, which is patrician, condescending, you’re-too-small-for-me-to-care-about, lying–one of the effects (and almost certainly aim) of which is to do absolutely nothing while giving the impression of doing everything.

      So it’s not only Harrison who needs to go, it’s the whole style of language, the attitudes and the interlocking webs of smarmy businessmen and their family trusts.

      OK. Rant over!

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Miami Dad's Six Nov 17, 2021 / 5:06 pm

    700k+ per annum.

    Just waffle and it’ll go away hopefully, Tom.


  8. quebecer Nov 17, 2021 / 8:58 pm

    Christ almighty, you need an inquiry to work out whether Yorkshire is racist? Have you been there??? I have never been to cricket or played cricket in Yorkshire without witnessing it. On my first visit with Middlesex U15s, opening the batting with a friend, he was greeted with “Get this monkey out.” Yes, later we responded in the field with, “Get these racist northern cunts out”, only to be admonished by the umpire and our coach and have a complaint levelled against us by their coach for over-aggression. That was long time ago, obviously, but every single time I have been to Headingley I have been staggered by the fact that it hasn’t changed one bit. And can I just point out the Hopps article on cricinfo, where he tells of how the majority of decent Yorkshire folk are so upset by all this having thought the years of disfunction at their club were over? Poor them, eh? For fuck’s sake, if I knew their county was like that, how could they possibly not????? And the audacity to not for a second wonder if they are also the problem! As a postscript, lovely to see the Guardian tackling this so well: of course, they banned me for suggesting on an article about Joe Root’s legacy that perhaps we should be discussing the legacy of his club. And I mean banned. Quebecer isn’t allowed to comment there any more. The number of people who simply need to be slapped around and then ignored is so monstrously large in all this.

    Liked by 2 people

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