English cricket is close to an emergency over its failure to address diversity issues, according to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tom Harrison.
Harrison was quizzed by members of a British parliamentary committee on Tuesday shortly after former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq’s harrowing account of racial slurs at the club which had left him feeling “isolated and humiliated”.
Yorkshire’s response to an independent report into Rafiq’s allegations attracted widespread criticism and led the ECB to suspend Yorkshire as a host for international games while the club also lost key sponsors.
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Harrison told the panel the handling of the report “speaks to institutional racism.”
“We’ve been aware of the importance of this agenda – not just racism, but diversity and equity. What we’ve struggled with is getting our first-class game to wake up.
“If we’re not in an emergency, we’re approaching one.”
Addressing members of the government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Harrison commended Rafiq’s “bravery” in speaking out about his treatment at Yorkshire.
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“We need to start to look at dressing room culture throughout the country,” Harrison said. “There’s a huge effort on this from the ECB but it takes time to trickle through.”
Rafiq, who was born in Pakistan but raised in Barnsley and captained England’s under-19 side, earlier told panel members he would not want his son “anywhere near cricket” after his own experiences of racism.
Asked about the perception of English cricket and the damage the allegations of racism caused, Harrison said: “I’d say please understand that we’re really sorry for the experiences you may have been through trying to experience cricket in this country.
“We know we may have let you down. We’ll fix it fast. We know the survival of our sport depends on it. We’ll transform this game very quickly.”