Counties delay ECB diversity blueprint in aftermath of Rafiq scandal

The England and Wales Cricket Board’s plan to improve inclusivity within the sport in the wake of the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal has been held up as counties dispute the timescale for making their boards and leadership teams more diverse.

The Guardian has seen the proposed plan, which comprises seven commitments that the ECB itself will make and a further 12 “tangible actions”, split into five categories, to which each county will be expected to commit. Among these actions is “a commitment to best practice governance” which will involve delivering “board and leadership team diversity (30% female, representative ethnicity) by April 2022”.

While the majority of the document has received unconditional backing, directors at multiple counties admitted to having reservations about this clause as phrased, both because of its aggressive deadline and its imprecise wording.

The clause builds on one contained in the County Partnership Agreement, which was published in 2019 and committed counties to “adopt a target of, and take all appropriate actions to encourage, a minimum of 30% of each gender and a minimum of one board member from a BAME background on its board”, ideally by the end of January 2021. They are now committed not just to adopting this target but to meeting it, and have been given only a few months to do so.

Meanwhile the identity, and even the definition, of a leadership team is hard to pin down and will vary considerably between counties, many of which remain unsure who exactly the clause is referring to. Hitting this target might be much harder for a county that has a dozen people in their leadership team than for one that has three, and it would become harder still if the definition of a leadership team is expanded to include all management-level staff.

Many current members of county boards and executive teams feel they have worked extremely hard to help the game come through the last two pandemic-affected seasons and that the sudden imposition of a plan that will potentially force many of them to leave their roles with very little notice has not been welcomed.

The Guardian understands that fine-tuning this clause so that every county is able to commit to it may force the plan’s publication, which had been promised for Wednestoday, to take place later in the week. The other pressing deadline contained in the document would force counties to review the way they detect and react to discriminatory and abusive behaviour on matchdays, and to provide whatever facilities and catering is necessary to allow all local communities to feel welcomed, by the start of next season.

Among the other recommendations counties will also be expected to:

Commit to a programme of continuous education for all staff, whether they are full-, part-time or volunteers, and to include players, coaches, umpires and directors.

Immediately adopt anonymised recruitment tools for senior roles, and ensure interview panels are “balanced and diverse”.

Adopt within three months a standardised approach to investigating allegations of discrimination.

Undertake and to publish a full review of dressing-room culture.

Improve diversity among coaches so that by 2025 there is at least 20% representation of each gender and a level of ethnic diversity that reflects each county’s demographic.

Create a mentoring programme to help talented young players from underrepresented backgrounds.

The plan also commits the ECB to establishing a new anti-discrimination unit within six months, and to publishing an annual report into the game’s progress towards meeting equality, diversity and inclusion goals.

“Whether it’s about cultural change in the dressing room, standards for recruitment of staff through the game, a range of different points over 12 areas, we will look for tangible action to make sure we are impacting on the ground,” Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, said last week.

“What are the reasons we are experiencing cultural difficulties in the dressing room? What are the reasons this abhorrent behaviour of racism in our game has attacked the high-performance space? These are the kind of areas we will take a much closer look at.”

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