WARNING: This article contains descriptions of racism and other offensive and discriminatory language and behaviour.
An obscene joke about a Muslim cricketer’s prayer mat and “predatory behaviour” towards women were some of the “absolutely horrific” stories heard by a damning report into discrimination in cricket.
The long-awaited Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) report was published on Tuesday and said racism, sexism, classism and elitism was “widespread” in the English and Welsh game.
Chair Cindy Butts said stories told to the commission showed the sport’s culture was “rotten”.
“We heard of women being constantly stereotyped, demeaned, facing predatory behaviour,” Butts told BBC sports editor Dan Roan.
“We heard from women who are having to walk into score boxes and face signs that say ‘no bras allowed’. This is 2023, not 1923.”
Butts described “routine” use of racial slurs, including one 13-year-old on a talent pathway being racially abused and told to “go back home”.
“We heard from a former Muslim player who had to endure the indignity of his team-mates laughing and joking about one of the players using the prayer mat to clean up after sex,” Butts added.
“The stories were absolutely horrific and it goes to show that the culture in cricket is rotten.”
‘Women subjected to sexting and harassment’
The report looked into recreational and professional cricket and the evidence gathered came from more than 4,000 respondents.
Among those to give evidence were England men’s Test captain Ben Stokes, women’s captain Heather Knight, former men’s captain Joe Root, World Cup-winning skipper Eoin Morgan and Azeem Rafiq, the former Yorkshire player and racism whistleblower.
“We heard that there are problems throughout cricket, including the England dressing room, at the recreational level, at the board level, including for young pupils as well, and people on the on the talent pathway throughout cricket,” Butts said.
As well as racism, the report was particularly damning when highlighting sexism – saying that women are treated as “subordinate” to men at all levels of the sport.
“What we what we’ve seen is that women are vulnerable when around a drinking culture, they are subjected to sexual harassment, lots of sexting,” Butts said.
“We’ve heard from a number of women who talk about being vulnerable and being exposed and having unwanted advances made on them by men.”
The report also found “significant” disparities in the amounts invested in men’s and women’s cricket, with England men receiving 13 times the overall amount paid to England women for all formats.
- In white-ball cricket, the average salary for England women is 20.6% of that for England men, while the England women’s captain’s allowance is 31% of that awarded to the men’s captain.
- Regarding England international match fees, England’s women’s fees are 25% of men’s for white-ball matches, and 15% for Test matches.
- In domestic cricket, the average salary for a player in a women’s regional team is equivalent to 45.5% of the average salary of a men’s player at a first-class county.
- In the Hundred, the highest salary tier for the women is just £1,250 more than the lowest tier for the men.
- Excluding the Hundred, the total prize money for women is just 10% of the total prize money for men.
Improving is our ‘single biggest priority’ – ECB chair
The report made 44 recommendations, including that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) makes an unreserved public apology for its failings.
Speaking to BBC Sport, ECB chair Richard Thompson offered a “heartfelt apology” to those who have been “discriminated against and excluded”.
He said making improvements on the back of the findings is the game’s “single biggest priority” and reiterated his desire, stated last September, to make cricket the country’s “most inclusive sport”.
“I think this report will accelerate that process now,” said Thompson, who was appointed last year.
“At the time I said it will probably take us five years to achieve that. And I think I think now we’ve probably got a bigger hill to climb based on what we’ve read in this report in terms of achieving that level.
“But cricket does reach communities that no other sport does.”
The report acknowledged that “the problems we identify are not, sadly, unique to cricket. In many instances they are indicative of equally deeply rooted societal problems”.
What else did the report say?
The report found racism in cricket is “not confined to pockets or a few bad apples” but is “widespread and a serious problem”.
It said there is “a culture in which overt discrimination often goes without serious challenge”, which includes “racist, misogynistic, homophobic and ableist comments and actions, and a ‘laddish’ drinking culture that can sometimes make women vulnerable and at risk of unwanted or unwelcome behaviour, as well as alienating others due to religious and/or cultural beliefs”.
A total of 50% of respondents had experienced discrimination in the past five years.
One Asian recreational player told how he and a team-mate had been “called terrorists”, and after complaining, was accused of “attempting to defame” the club in question.
A former professional player said that “as a black cricketer, I had to be three times better than my white counterparts”.
The commission also said it was “alarmed” by repeated references to “the bank of mum and dad”, with respondents stressing the importance of financial support from parents in determining whether they made it as a cricketer or not.
The report recommended the historic Eton versus Harrow and Oxford against Cambridge fixtures should not be played at Lord’s from 2023 onwards, in order to stop the message of elitism, and questioned why the England women’s team has not played a Test at the venue.
“It’s absolutely shocking that women haven’t had the opportunity to play a Test match at the so-called home of cricket,” Butts said.
“I think that’s awful.
“And when you know that Eton and Harrow have an automatic right to play at Lord’s, I think that is absolutely disgraceful. I think it speaks to the elitism in cricket.”
Criticism of the fixtures was part of what the report called a prevalence of “elitism and class-based discrimination”.
A lack of cricket in state schools and a talent pathway structurally aligned to private schools is partly to blame for “elitism and class-based discrimination”, it said.
Butts said: “We have concluded that it is and it’s not just institutionally racist, we say that it’s institutionally and structurally sexist and has class-based discrimination.
“We have thought long and hard about using that term, but we believe it’s a term that applies when you look at the evidence that exists.”