Four months ago, I interviewed the cricketing legend about his groundbreaking book Why We Kneel, How We Rise. He sensed back then that cricket’s governing body – the England Wales Cricket Board– was in denial about the prevalence of racism in their sport. “Consciously or subconsciously, they seem they don’t want to get involved,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
Now, talking again to Holding at the weekend, he says the officials who did not take complaints by Rafiq and others seriously are as culpable as the players who made racist and hurtful statements. “It is a story of people, the administrators, not coming to terms with the real world,” he says with succinct candour.
So long a voice of reason, and objectivity, on Sky Sports, Holding – a fearsome fast bowler now revered as cricket’s elder statesman – is even more convinced that education and leadership is the way forward. It is why he wrote his acclaimed book which he believes is making a difference – and he says that all staff at Yorkshire CCC, whatever their status or stature, need to attend “awareness lessons” in “human relations” as the first step to changing the club’s culture.
But, tellingly, he says, the constitutions of Yorkshire and the ECB are not fallible; it is ingrained ‘white superiority’ and weak leadership that saw racial slurs, like those used by Gary Ballance towards Rafiq, dismissed as “banter”. “It is all about people. You need the right people to lead,” he stresses.
He says that selecting players like Jofra Archer and Moeen Ali for England does not constitute a diversity policy. Holding also despairs as much about the absence of cricket coaches from ethnic minority backgrounds in the English county games – “they don’t stand a chance at the interview stage” – as he is about the demonising of people of colour by a Prime Minister as “appalling” as Boris Johnson.
He is blunt in his book: “Populist politicians, like Johnson and his Ministers, know perfectly well what they are doing. It is a scheme, a ploy. It is deliberate distortion, misrepresentation of facts and straight out of the populist playbook. It doesn’t actually matter what is true to these people. What matters is what lies they can get away with, who they can enrage or make feel threatened to preserve and enhance their positions and ambitions.”
Though written in the context of Downing Street’s past failure to recognise Black History Month, these words could also be applied to Johnson’s contempt of Parliament over the suspension of disgraced former Minister Owen Paterson.
But they’re equally emblematic of cricket’s shameful attempt to play down the seriousness of the Rafiq scandal, his claims of institutional racism at YCCC and lack of transparency over an inquiry process (if it can be called that). If Johnson and others in positions of power set such a rotten example, what hope for the rest of Britain?
If it was down to me, the aforementioned Ballance wouldn’t just be ineligible for England until matters are resolved; he would be suspended by Yorkshire too.
Mark Arthur, Martyn Moxon and Andrew Gale, the three senior figures at Yorkshire who have allowed this scandal to escalate to Parliamentary level, would have left long ago – their malingering presence at Headingley now undermines new chairman Lord Kamlesh Patel’s work rebuilding a club in reputational ruin, a task he has described as “seismic”.
And the weasel-like excuses of Tom Harrison, chief executive of the ECB for the past six years, were as pathetic as Environment Secretary George Eustice dismissing the Paterson affair as a ‘storm in a teacup’. He, too, must go.
It is clear cricket’s weakness is that it has been slow to embrace societal change – again Holding comes back to the issue of education so players like Ballance recognise the difference between racism and ‘banter’, the YCCC default defence.
How this happens remains to be seen. It might even need Yorkshire, and other county clubs, to consider quotas – like those used in post-apartheid South Africa – so that a proportion of players come from BAME backgrounds in order to foster inclusivity and integration. But that such a proposition is open for debate in 2021 speaks volumes as anti-racism protesters, a throwback to the 1970s and National Front, gather at Headingley.
The last word to Michael Holding who should be persuaded to advise on a new era for cricket: “Each sport or industry can try to put their house in order, but the message has to reach society at large or no real meaningful change can take place.” He’s right and should be heeded.
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