Essex County Cricket Club (ECCC) was fined £50,0000 by the England Cricket Board’s (ECB) cricket discipline commission this week, after racist comments were made in a formal meeting. What better way to reaffirm their commitment to anti-discrimination and their zero tolerance policy towards racism in English cricket, right?
Well, this is certainly the image the ECB and its press machine are looking to propagate after the sanction was announced. I would have linked the ECB press release here, but one hasn’t been released on their website at time of writing…
However, the picture is far murkier than any clickbait headline may let on. When taking this latest development into consideration in its entirety, it betrays, at best, another ill-affordable wrong turn in the ECB’s quest for absolution. At worst, it indicates that cricket’s governing body isn’t in a position to tackle this challenge head on and make real progress.
There are many facets to this very revealing case study of the state of the ECB with regard to racism. It is important to be reminded of the gravity of the allegations: if we stay in the abstract, it is all too easy to dismiss what was said and done as inconsequential.
Firstly, they are punishing former chairperson John Faragher’s use of racist terminology. He is alleged to have used the phrase “n****r in the woodpile” at a board meeting in February 2017.
Also mentioned in the report from the disciplinary hearing, all of which you can read here, is the inaction of the entire ECCC executive board to act upon the incident, which was known to all of its members as far back as January 2018.
Admission of guilt
The first thing to note is that Faragher is yet to admit making the comment. The ECCC instead “have admitted its use” in front the disciplinary hearing, presumably on his behalf.
This story, therefore, exists in some sort of strange paradoxical space that implicitly condones discrimination: ECCC have admitted to, and been reprimanded for, an incidence of racism that, according to the perpetrator, didn’t officially happen.
The lack of acknowledgement from the alleged (there’s that word again) perpetrator is of great significance. The whole point of holding guilty individuals to account is, surely, to make an example of them as a deterrent to others who may be intent on following suit.
By allowing the question of guilt to hang over this case, the ECB is missing a huge opportunity to hold those accountable for their actions, which might validate the position of those for whom this scandal is most troubling: the victims.
Unfortunately, this isn’t new for the ECB either. Michael Vaughan still denies directing racist abuse at Asian players while representing Yorkshire County Cricket Club in 2009, despite Azeem Rafiq, Adil Rashid and Rana Naved ul-Hasan all corroborating this allegation.
It may be true that both Vaughan and Faragher are being falsely accused. But, for as long as they are forced to take the heat for actions they don’t admit doing, there can be no closure. You can have sympathy for those who question the ECB’s approach to eradicating racism from the sport.
Hit them where it hurts. Or not…
The nature of the reprimand must also be considered. £50,000 seems a steep, no-nonsense sum that will deter future discrimination.
Taking a closer look, the fine actually amounts to £35,000, with £15,000 suspended for two years, provided ECCC doesn’t, “commit any further serious breach of cricketing regulations in the next two years”.
£50,000 £35,000 is not just spare change, granted, but it’s a moot point as to whether or not it would hurt ECCC financially. A quick look at the club’s accounts for 2019/2020 shows an operating profit of £86,240 on a turnover of just under £5m, even on the back of the economic pressures of the pandemic. This, when considered with the amount it can afford to play its players, indicates that £35,000 is a perfect affordable fine for the club.
Obviously, cricket needs to be played. Bankrupting every club where there are incidences of racism may run the risk of eliminating both racism and cricket at the same time. But with the rhetoric as it is, where is the motivation to eradicate discrimination? In other words, so long as clubs can quite literally afford to allow racial discrimination to happen, there will be no urgency to eradicate this once and for all.
Motivations from above
Much more existential questions remain over what the ECB’s cricket discipline commission is actually punishing with this verdict. In this regard, the verdict isn’t even the issue. Instead, it’s the questions around why this discrimination has been deemed punishable that are pertinent: is the commission punishing the discrimination, or is it punishing the damage done to its own reputation?
The ECB charged Essex with a breach of ECB Directive 3.3, which reads: “No participant may conduct themself in a manner or do any act or omission at any time which may be prejudicial to the interests of cricket or which may bring the ECB, the game of cricket or any cricketer or group of cricketers into disrepute.”
Of course, this incident is prejudicial to the interests of cricket being a game for everyone, but the question we have to be asking is why the ECB’s reputation is a factor in this equation at all.
As I have outlined in a previous article, the ECB does deserve credit for its response. Quite rightly, too. Society must greatly encourage any action that is taken that moves us in the right direction. But if the ECB approaches these issues with its reputation as much in mind as the reputation of the game itself, then this will only detract from this self-proclaimed commitment to eradicating racism.
England cricket must change or be changed
For any large organisation or business, it is absolutely vital they are held accountable for their actions.
It may be that a £35,000 slap on the wrist is the best the ECB can muster. If that’s the case, then at least observers with higher ambitions can react to that reality, and understand that fundamental changes need to happen at the ECB if we are to eradicate discrimination from the game.
But for the time being, a suspended fine for a discriminatory comment that *didn’t* happen, the purpose of which was at least in part to protect the reputation of the ECB, presents some very real concerns about the ECB’s commitment to making cricket a game for everyone.
Maybe it’s a systemic flaw. Maybe it’s actually just a missed opportunity.
Regardless, it’s now over to the ECB to put its money where its mouth is, and start backing up its anti-discrimination rhetoric with more productive and efficacious action.
If not, then at least we’ll know what needs to change if we are to, as the ECB says, make cricket a game for everyone.