Young Asian cricketers face ‘devastating’ hurdles on path to the professional game

Privately educated white British players are 34 times more likely to become professional cricketers than state-educated British South Asians, according to academic research that is likely to invite further investigation of the game’s treatment of ethnic minorities.

The report highlights how both class and ethnic disparities are major determining factors in progression from the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) talent development pathways into the professional game. The research, by Tom Brown of Birmingham City University, found that white British players are three times more likely to become professionals compared with their British South Asian counterparts, regardless of schooling.

English cricket has been thrown into turmoil after a series of allegations of racism at every level of the game, particularly following Azeem Rafiq’s testimony before a parliamentary select committee last week. The allegations of racism levelled by Rafiq, a former Yorkshire cricketer, include him repeatedly being called a “paki”, and referred to by the name “Kevin”, a dehumanising moniker for black and Asian players.

The chairman of Yorkshire country cricket club has resigned, the head coach has been suspended and the former England captain, Michael Vaughan, has been temporarily dropped by the BBC after Rafiq accused him of making a racist comment to British Asian cricketers. Vaughan has denied this.

Brown said the continuing fallout from Yorkshire’s handling of Rafiq’s case reflects a wider problem around the lack of diversity in the upper echelons of the sport.

Another paper published by the academic earlier this week found that the disparity in progression into the professional game for white and Asian players could not be explained in terms of performance.

“Results indicate that current talent pathways are failing to provide an environment that can maximise the potential of its players from minority backgrounds,” said Brown. “As most selection decisions in pathway cricket rely on the subjective views of coaches, a lack of understanding around cultural norms leaves the system prone to biases.”

Brown, who is a performance cricket coach at Warwickshire CCC, as well as an academic, added: “We have to be prepared to adapt our current structures and realise that harnessing talent from players of minority backgrounds will enhance the standard and appeal of cricket in this country.”

Very few professional cricketers in England are British South Asians. On a conservative estimate, 30% of recreational players are of South Asian heritage, while only 4% of professional players are British South Asian.

Laura Cordingley, chief executive of national cricket charity Chance to Shine, said: “Over the years we’ve seen incredible examples of how our programmes can positively impact young lives, including those from minority ethnic backgrounds; to think that many people may now feel that the sport we love does not welcome them is quite frankly devastating.”

In 2018 the ECB published an action plan entitled “Engaging South Asian communities”. Coaches and researchers, including individuals from a South Asian background, expressed concern that aspects of the governing body’s short-term plan (2018-19) had still to be delivered. The most notable of these was the ECB’s plan to “establish a mentoring programme for young South Asian players on the talent pathway and provide support for all South Asian players and their parents”.

Sajid Patel, co-founder of the National Cricket League (NCL), said he had been involved as an “activist” in cricket since 1998. “This isn’t just about Azeem Rafiq,” said Patel. “He has spoken up and brought these issues to the surface, but I have been hearing reports of racism against Asian players for decades. How can you expect people to perform when the environment is toxic or they’re subject to racist abuse?”

The NCL launched in Waltham Forest, north-east London, in 2012. Patel estimates that 95% of the league’s 1,200 players are British South Asian.

“Organisations like ours are mostly self-funded and we’re outside the network of established traditional cricket clubs,” Patel said. “In east London, 60 to 65% of cricket is played by the South Asian community, but too many talented youngsters never get an opportunity. There is a blockage in the pathway.”

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