Yesterday evening I found myself with an hour to kill before collecting the wife from the airport, so I switched on the telly, hoping to find a spot of cricket.

What I found instead was the BBC 6 o’clock News, and boy do I wish that I hadn’t? I have very little interest in the news, because since Brexit and the pandemic, “… journalism has become overrun with dullards, bums and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy and complacency, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity.” Hunter S Thompson’s words not mine, but words with which I agree entirely, and I could add a couple more, but I won’t, because you probably already get the picture. The media is only interested in the low-hanging fruit of negativity, and the breaking story I turned on my telly to witness is as good an example of this as you will find.

Hunter S Thompson – never one to be bogged down by stagnant mediocrity

So, here’s the banner headline: “English cricket is ‘racist, sexist and elitist’, says landmark report”.

I quote form this morning’s Guardian: “English cricket suffers from “widespread and deep-rooted” racism, sexism, elitism and class-based discrimination at all levels of the game and urgently needs reform, a landmark report had found.

Before disseminating these findings, let’s skip ahead to the recommendations made by the report. There are 44 of these ranging from “the modest to the radical.” They include a number of measures to tackle racism, sexism and elitism, and call for regular ‘culture’ checks to ensure genuine change. “Cricket must not find itself in the same position in another two years’ time let alone another twenty,” the report states, as reported in The Guardian.

“The 317-page report from the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC), which drew on evidence from more than 4,000 players, coaches, administrators and fans, also urges the sport to also face up to the fact ‘that it’s not banter or just a few bad apples’ causing the problems.”

The two headline recommendations are that the annual Harrow versus Eton and Oxford versus Cambridge matches traditionally played at Lord’s will be replaced by a state school under-15s competition and a finals’ day for university teams, to indicate that the sport is becoming more inclusive. Good luck finding two state schools where U15s play cricket, but I’ll come to that in a minute.

Varsity cricket match at Lords. Oxford v Cambridge, a thing of the past? Well dressed spectators on the field in front of the main stand. 9th July 1914. (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

And the second? The commission recorded that in 2021 England’s men cricketers received 13 times the amount paid to England’s women players, and recommended that there should be equal pay at domestic level by 2029 and international level by 2030. Where’s the money going to come from for this, I wonder? Women’s cricket brings minimal money into ECB’s [England and Wales Cricket Board] coffers. The only way to fund this is to further increase the cost of tickets to men’s test matches, and also county cricket – which is generally watched by two men and a dog.

Just look at the acres of empty seating at Trent Bridge for the recent women’s Ashes opener, and let’s compare cricket with soccer for a minute. Are women professional soccer players paid as much as their male counterparts? Don’t be silly: both male and female footballers receive the same appearance fee when representing England, yet at club level, men’s salaries are up to 100 times more than women’s. That’s a vast chasm between the salary difference in cricket and is that going to change?

Empty seating at Trent Bridge ins’t going to fill the ECB coffers

And culture checks? What the heck are these? I asked John Smith (clearly not his real name, but anonymity is the way to go here), who plays first team cricket for a leading Devon Premiership club* if he was, or had been, aware of racism, sexism, elitism and class-based discrimination in the game. He replied that as a straight white man he didn’t think he was allowed to hold an opinion on the topic.

So, I asked a few of his teammates the same question, and here are some of the answers I received (these are not their real names… obviously).

Zac Mason: “Most people I play with are not privately educated. However, the fact is that state schools don’t play cricket. They focus more on athletics in the summer, as it’s easier to teach, requires less expense, and, in any case, they don’t have pitches because they were sold off for development years ago.”

Ollie Thompson: “Private schools have a long history of playing cricket, and it is part of their culture. Of course, the counter argument to that is the old chestnut of abolishing private education… which will probably happen soon and then there will be nobody playing cricket, which will create a level playing field. Except, of course, there’ll be nothing actually played on it.”

Daryl Johnson: “I don’t think money has much to do with it. A lot of parents generally can’t be arsed with cricket as it takes a lot of commitment from them. If their kid plays cricket at a private school, they’re not required to do anything, other than turn up and eat cake and sandwiches if they can be bothered.”

Nick Cummings: “Personally I haven’t witnessed any racism in cricket – quite the opposite really. Diversity is encouraged and most teams in the Premiership and even below have an overseas player, mostly from India or Pakistan.”

Mike Brown: “All this negativity could ultimately be very damaging to a sport which is already struggling to keep clubs open. Many village clubs are merging with others or shutting down do to excessive “inclusive” administrational procedures they are required to do by the ECB, and a general lack of interest in cricket. In Devon, Sampford Peverell merged with Heathcote, and Kentisbeare merged with Bradninch.”

Isn’t this all just a little bit, yes… I’m going to use the word “woke?”

Let’s take another look at today’s Guardian: “Some people may roll their eyes at the perceived ‘wokeness’ of this work,” Cindy Butts, the ICEC chair states. “However, as much as the word may have been weaponized in recent years, taking on a pejorative meaning, we consider – and it is often defined as such – that being ‘woke’ or doing ‘woke work’ simply means being alive to injustice.” Isn’t talking about a word being weaponised over-egging the weaponisation of your own argument, Cindy?

Cindy Butts – the ICEC chair

But where precisely is the injustice? Is it simply that cricket is out of step with the rest of sport, or are there deeper problems that “fixing” the perceived inadequacies of cricket can’t rectify? The report goes on to state “that the problems it identifies are ‘not, sadly, unique to cricket and are often indicative of deeply rooted societal problems.’” Bit of a tough ask then, isn’t it? Which problems does the ECB tackle first, cricket’s problems or society’s?

I wonder – out of curiosity – how many professional soccer players went to private school? I did a little research into this and here’s what I found. It’s worth reading this article from The Spectator, if you have a moment. Why do I raise this? because soccer (Association Football to give it the official name) has always been regarded as a predominately working-class game, and if you wanted to make a case for it, you could apply the same concerns to soccer as to cricket… in a perverse way. Discrimination against those who attend private schools and lack of inclusivity in soccer… well why not? You could, but as I can’t stand soccer… I can’t be bothered.

Back to the “comments section”. While the comments above come from cricketers who are either millennials or Generation Z, it’s worth hearing what my generation – old farts, rapidly approaching the coffin-dodging stage and referred to as Baby Boomers – have to say on the matter.

A friend of mine, who works in the cricket touring industry, runs a What’s App group, and here’s what a few of his contributors had to say this morning (no names, no pack drill. But in the interests of anonymity, I will name them OF1 [Old fart] and so on):

OF1:    “They should be paid the same if they deliver the same income. Are the TV rights from the women’s Ashes the same as the men’s? Did the Women sell out the Trent Bridge test? However, I do like the different nature of the women’s game.”

OF2:    “I would turn this report around and say that the cessation of cricket in state schools and the absence of cricket on free TV is causing perceived discrimination because the majority of children grow up knowing nothing of cricket. That’s the root of the problem. Schools and TV. The government should take steps to fix these problems in order to eliminate discrimination, or perceived discrimination.  Despite this, the current captain of England went to a Comprehensive school. Cricket is doing its best. But it’s fighting huge changes in society. It needs help not criticism.”

OF3:    “Be better to create a separate women’s cricket board and let it be self-funding. Women’s cricket is a pretty good product now, time to let it forge its own identity.”

OF4:    “The fact remains that the ECB has been pouring £10m a year into women’s cricket funded from Men’s Test tickets and that will need to increase markedly if these recommendations are to be implemented.”

OF5:    “It’s a constant theme. Discrimination is being sought out everywhere. If it isn’t found then it has to be invented.”

OF6:    “One could make an argument that men’s cricket subsidises women’s cricket. Men’s cricket is therefore the object of discrimination.”

So where does that leave us?

I’m not suggesting for one moment that there is any less cultural and social value in women playing cricket than there is in the men’s game.

“It’s a constant theme. Discrimination is being sought out everywhere. If it isn’t found then it has to be invented.”

However, I would reiterate the point made by Cindy Butts. For the record, Butts is a former commissioner at the Criminal Cases Review Commission and was deputy chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. She is also a trustee of the football anti-racism charity Kick it Out, and has a degree in Social Anthropology and Politics from SOAS https://www.soas.ac.uk/

The issues of discrimination, inclusivity, sexism and elitism are societal problems – if these affect cricket, this not is problem specific to cricket. This is a problem specific to society. Perhaps then – to play devil’s advocate – Margaret Thatcher was right when she reputedly said that there is no such thing as society? Dare I suggest that the societal constructs that define the third decade of the 21st century are too far ahead for the cultural changes that are demanded of cricket to catch up? Put simply, they are out of sync. And because of this, cricket will be the next dinosaur to curl up its toes and die.

But then, what would I know and why should I have a voice on this? Because I’ve just given myself a culture check and concluded that, as a straight white man, my thoughts will only be regarded as discriminatory, elitist, sexist, and racist.

In actual fact, this could not be much further from the truth.

Post Script.

Today is the first day of the Lord’s (men’s) Ashes test. As if cricket doesn’t have enough problems to address at present, the opening was delayed due to a protest by a group calling themselves Just Stop Oil. Jonny Bairstow demonstrated improved handling skills by catching one of the protesters and carrying him off the pitch.

I expect that’ll be another incident for the woke brigade to take issue with.

Where will it all end?

*My earlier post referred to the name of the club, but I have now been requested to remove it by John Smith. The reason for this – and why I have obliged – is because “Smith” considers that, should it get “into the wrong hands,” my blog could lead to his (SE Devon) club being investigated for racism, sexism, elitism and class-based discrimination. This is the world we live in now.

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