THE Gloucestershire County Cricket League (GCCL) has behaved in the most appalling way with a local club, made up mostly of Muslims, and should be wound up.
The basic facts are that Gloucester AIW Cricket Club, which was set up some 60 years ago by Muslim immigrants from India, was docked 22 points for failing to play a match on August 10 because it clashed with Eid. To add insult to injury, its opponents, Redmarley
CC, were given an extra 20 points.
All this happened after nearly a year’s negotiation between the GCCL and Gloucester AIW because a match did clash with Eid last year and both sides wanted to avoid a repetition in 2019.
In fact, the GCCL’s rule book was changed to introduce a new clause: “The League respects the implications of Eid for members of the Muslim faith. If there is the probability of Eid falling on a Saturday, and a club is concerned about fulfilling a fixture, then, working with the fixture secretary and opposition teams, the match must be rescheduled before
the start of the season or on a Sunday or Bank Holiday. This must be done before January 31st.”
Gloucester AIW did point out to the GCCL in good time that there would again be a clash this year and repeatedly asked to meet league officials so the problem could be resolved. But the GCCL refused to meet representatives of Gloucester AIW and punished the club when it failed to play the match on August 10.
The story has now become a national scandal. GCCL chairman Brian Hudson said the league “operated in the terms of its rules” but will provide no further explanation.
Steve Kitchen of BBC Gloucester Drivetime revealed that Hudson put the phone down on him.
My experience is that people who run cricket are among the nicest in the world, but Hudson’s high-handed behaviour is baffling, to put it politely.
Anyway, his decision cannot and must not be allowed to stand. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which is the sport’s apex body, should ask Hudson to consider his position.
There should also be a wholesale clear-out of league officials. I have played a fair bit of cricket in my time, but not come across such disgraceful behaviour.
The AIW in the club’s name stands for “Asians, Indians and Widden”, the last being an area of Gloucester where some of its players used to live. But it is now simply called Gloucester AIW.
As a last resort, club secretary Ahmed Goga has been forced to make the affair public in a statement headed: “Discrimination, Ignorance and Inactivity – the Brutal Reality Faced by South Asian Cricket Clubs in 2019.”
Goga tells me there are many Asian clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire, but in Gloucestershire there are barely a handful.
That might explain why it appears so easy to bully a group of largely workingclass Muslims who play cricket for the love of the game.
“In the calm, after those euphoric moments of Sunday 14th July and England’s first ever World Cup win our captain, Eoin Morgan, reflected on the diversity of the team as a source of strength and proudly restated Adil Rashid’s confidence of victory because ‘Allah was with
us’,” the statement began.
“Tom Harrison, chief executive of the ECB, appeared on Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek programme proclaiming that the twin goals of the Cricket World Cup were to connect and bring communities together and work towards growing the game by appealing to groups who are not engaging in large enough numbers within the formal club cricket structures
which exist, at present.
“These are sentiments which we, at Gloucester AIW CC, fully endorse. We are one of the oldest community cricket clubs of south Asian heritage in the southwest of England. Established nearly 60 years ago by first-generation migrants from India, the club was seen as a way to help integrate with the local population of Gloucester.
“Over the years we have worked our way up the cricket pyramid and successfully won trophies competing at district, county and regional levels. While holding down regular day jobs, we have worked tirelessly as volunteers to develop partnerships with local schools to nurture the next generation of players into the game and raised funds to invest in
local community cricket facilities. We are an example of the very type of club
which fits into the long-term vision set out by the ECB.”
The statement sets out chapter and verse Gloucester AIW’s attempts – in writing – to reach some sort of accommodation with the league, but it was rebuffed, it seems, at every stage.
“In the absence of any meaningful dialogue, co-operation or real leadership within the Gloucestershire cricketing family, we are left with no alternative but to make public this deeply upsetting and heart-breaking episode,” it continued.
“Our intention is to make senior figures in the game, administrators, media outlets and commentators more aware of the experiences faced by south Asian clubs and the realities on the ground in local leagues, and their interaction with local administrators and cricketing bodies. Discrimination, ignorance and a lack of will to tackle the issues remains rife. Players no longer wish to commit to playing the sport if they have the view that they or their rights will not be protected when they need support at the most important times.
“The ECB and the GCB aspire to engage and deepen the participation of clubs like Gloucester AIW in the structures of the game. They need to understand that having statements in constitutions committing to equality or setting out grand visions to bring communities together or working towards making the game more attractive to the next generation of players are mere lip service, if they are not then followed up with action
The response from James Holland, chairman of Redmarley CC, has been disappointing: “We were or are unable to accommodate league cricket outside of Saturdays. We were just effectively unable to provide a competitive team on a date on a Saturday before the scheduled day.”
The ECB should sort out this mess, of course. Gloucester AIW should have no difficulty in finding a fair-minded QC willing to take the league to court.
Meanwhile, I would commend to league officials Henry Newbolt’s 1897 poem, Vitai Lampada, which encourages cricketers to “Play up! play up! and play the game!” and sums up the spirit of the noblest sport in the world.
Surely, Gloucestershire County Cricket League is run by gentlemen.