• Saturday, May 25, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Exclusive: ECB “too scared” to confront Ian Botham

Several prominent cricket sources have accused the game’s regulator of being too scared to punish him

Lord Ian Botham (Photo by Steve Bell/Getty Images)

By: Barnie Choudhury

THE England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has failed to step up and investigate why Lord Ian Botham trashed an independent report which found cricket to be racist and misogynist, according to those close to the sport.

Eastern Eye has spoken to several prominent cricket sources who have accused the game’s regulator of being too scared to punish him.

They have called for the ECB to confront the peer, who is the chair of first-class side, Durham, over his comments.

“Let’s get this right,” said one highly ranked source, “I don’t think Botham is a racist, but he’s certainly misinformed, mistaken and misguided here.

“But what’s worse is the way the ECB have responded to his comments.

“This is a white man considered a God in cricket who has gaslit people of colour and women who have faced racism and misogyny.

“They were quick to condemn Colin Graves [former Yorkshire chair] when he described racism as banter.

“Why won’t they take on Botham whose comments are worse.”

During a podcast interview Botham said, “I read bits of the report and I just threw it down on the floor in the end because in my eyes, it’s a nonsense.

“It was a complete and utter waste of money that could have been well spent on other things within the game.”

Racial slurs

The former Essex cricketer, Jahid Ahmed, added his voice to racism in his sport after being inspired by ex-Yorkshire captain, Azeem Rafiq’s testimony to the sport select committee in 2021.

Jahid Ahmed (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

He appeared before MPs in December 2022, and he described how he endured racial slurs, such as “curry muncher”.

“Ian Botham was one of my heroes growing up,” Ahmed told Eastern Eye. “Just to see his views and hear those things, I lost a lot of respect for him.

“I can’t believe a person in his position would say such things, it’s a disgrace the way he reacted.

“How could you think that the inquiry was a waste of time?

“He said he grew up with Viv Richard (West Indies cricketer) so he can’t be racist, this is a typical white person’s response, isn’t it?

“I’ve got black mates so I can’t be racist on this, it’s all rubbish.

“How could you, you’re supposed to be one of the icons of England cricketers, and a legend how could you react in that way?”

Another south Asian said, “The ECB don’t get the harm and damage Botham has done to the game.

“He’s a chair of one of 18 first-class county clubs, he’s revered and when he opens his mouth people listen.

“What’s to stop the remaining 17 clubs from saying, ‘Well, if Beefy doesn’t care, why should we? The ECB aren’t going to do anything.’

“In one story, Botham has given the green light for every racist, every club to stick a middle finger up at Cindy Butts, the report and the game.”

Faith destroyed

Sources told Eastern Eye they were “seriously concerned” for their children.

“In one stroke, Botham has destroyed the faith of those who were brave enough to speak out,” one said.

“He’s not stupid, he knows it takes guts to come forward, he’s seen what happened to Azeem [Rafiq] when he spoke up.

“Azeem was killed by the press, they dug up dirt on him and people put dog shit through his letterbox, and he had to leave the UK.

“Botham knows that, and I don’t know why or how he could have said what he did.

“Now, we don’t know whether it’s safe to send our kids to clubs because it’s clear the ECB are far too scared to take on Botham.

“That sends a message that they don’t have our backs, so much for zero tolerance.

“Once again the ECB has failed ethnic minorities, but why am I not surprised?”

The ECB needs to do more to improve inclusion in the game (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

The chair of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC), Cindy Butts, took the unusual step of writing to The Times.

She also challenged Botham when he said her inquiry had not asked him to take part.

“Botham said he was not asked for his opinion,” she wrote. “In fact, he was given two chances.

Cindy Butts

“We wrote to him on April 11, 2022, inviting him to speak to us, but received no reply.

“He was also offered an evidence session through the county cricket board chairs equality, diversity and inclusion group in September last year.

“This was declined by the group which said it did not feel it needed further opportunities to provide evidence.

“Botham also said he did not know anyone who was asked to contribute, but Durham County Cricket Club, of which he is chairman, gave evidence and promoted our survey.

“Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Heather Knight all contributed, as did former players such as Devon Malcolm, David Lawrence, Mark Alleyne and Owais Shah.”

Scared ECB

Sources close to the commission told Eastern Eye, “They can disagree with the commissioners as much as they like, and everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but we’re now talking about one of their own, a chair of a county cricket team, and it’s just not on.

“It’s for the ECB to stand up and be counted on this issue and hold Botham to account.”

The ECB told Eastern Eye that it did not agree with Botham’s comments about the report.

But it failed to answer questions put to the board.

  1. Whether the ECB intended to speak with Botham about his views concerning the report?
  2. Whether the ECB was concerned that as the current chair of Durham, Botham’s comments were harmful to the game, and whether the board intended to investigate racism at Durham?

South Asian sources involved in the game are now questioning the role of directors and non-executive directors (NEDs) of colour.

They want to know what, if anything, they are saying to the ECB.

“The NEDs are paid handsomely, the chair gets around £150k, while some of the others get around £60,000 for 26 days’ work,” one told Eastern Eye.

“Now, they can’t just take the money and status and stay schtum, they must hold the ECB executive board to account, that’s their role.”

South Asian voices?

Eastern Eye contacted all three NEDs of colour, Sir Ron Kalifa, Baroness Zahida Manzoor, and Ebony Rainford-Brent.

The ECB press office responded on their behalf.

It would not confirm whether the three NEDs of colour had said anything about Botham’s outburst or whether they demanded an enquiry.

“We recognise and support the findings of the ICEC report and reiterate our apologies to anyone who has ever experienced discrimination in cricket,” said a spokeswoman.

“There is no longer a debate to be had about whether cricket is inclusive enough.

“We want to see more people of colour, more women and more people from diverse and underserved communities accessing our sport.

“Our role as a national governing body is to focus on creating long-term change and working with everyone across cricket to make our game truly inclusive and diverse.’’

Moeen Ali (second from right) and Adil Rashid (fourth from right) are the two highest-profile
Asians who have played for England recently (Photo by RANDY BROOKS/AFP via Getty Images)

The ECB also has three south Asians on its executive board – responsible for day-to-day running.

The board’s financial report for 2023 shows that directors were paid almost £2.5 million compared to £1.1 million in 2022.

Eastern Eye understands that this wage bill is for both executive and non-executive directors.

The ECB will not discuss or reveal what NEDs earn or their benefits package, but we understand that some will not take a salary while others will donate it to charity.

This newspaper is not suggesting that the ECB or its directors are doing anything underhanded – the global accountants KPMG audits the business.

We understand that the rise was owing to payment for a long-term incentive plan which had grown over several years.

Additionally, Eastern Eye understands that the rise took account of the cost of living salary increases and bonuses.

Money for nothing?

But that’s unlikely to cool the disappointment of those close to the game.

“If you’ve got those six people there and they haven’t got the balls to say something about or to Ian Botham, that’s where we are going wrong, isn’t it?” said Ahmed, the former Essex cricketer.

“They should understand more than anyone, they would have faced some sort of racism during their life, and for them not to say a single thing about Ian Botham what he said, what he’s done, it’s just utterly disgraceful.

“I suppose if they’re not saying anything about it, it’ll show people like him, the big fish, big people, they get away with murder.”

Another unnamed source questioned how the people of colour could take the money but apparently not defend their respective communities.

“Well, that a massive boost to solve cost of living, almost double, and when the game’s accused of racism and misogyny how can you take a bonus and not fix the fundamentals?” asked one senior cricketing source.

“It’s shameful, and the public need to know what the directors, especially the three south Asians, are doing on a day to day running of the organisation rather than taking the money and doing diddley.”

Eastern Eye asked all three NEDs of colour directly whether, as governors overseeing how the organisation operates, they would raise the matter with the CEO and chair.

This newspaper has been unable to get an acceptable answer.

The former England batting coach and Middlesex and Surrey cricketer, Mark Ramprakash, told Eastern Eye that it was clear his sport had people who were racist because it reflected society.

Mark Ramprakash (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

The game had questions to answer, he said.

“Very bluntly, there is a lot of work to be done,” said Ramprakash, “and if you look at south Asian communities, there’s a disparity between those who are playing recreational cricket  and who are playing in representative age groups for counties.

“But they’re not going on to professional cricket, they’re not transitioning into the professional game. Why is that?

“It’s a question that needs to be asked, and there also needs to be clearly more representation at the top of the game.

“So, we’re talking about board level directors of cricket, chairs, head coaches, academy directors.

“Let’s face it, there’s a lot of interest and very well qualified, energetic people who would love to do these roles, and the talent is out there, unquestionably, why are they not getting these positions?

“I’m currently president of Middlesex County Cricket Club, and I am trying, along with many others at the county, to make a positive impact and see real, specific change within the county.”

Eastern Eye approached Durham and Botham for comment but neither responded.

COMMENT: Anger as ECB remains silent over Botham’s views

As I’m speaking with Jahid Ahmed, I’m wondering how his mental health is, writes Barnie Choudhury.

The former Essex cricketer watched Azeem Rafiq’s testimony before MPs in 2021, and a year later, in December 2022, Ahmed would appear before the same select committee.

Days before that hearing, his former club wrote to MPs stressing how it had ordered an inquiry under the auspices of a barrister.

“In late November 2021 Essex CCC appointed Katharine Newton KC to undertake an independent investigation into historic allegations of racism at the club,” wrote interim chair Sir Stephen O’Brien.

“The club commissioned such an investigation in order to allow any persons to be affected by such behaviour at the club to be heard, to emphasise that the club does not and will not tolerate such behaviour, and to enable recommendations to be made and acted upon.

“Ms Newton KC has been undertaking her investigation for nearly one year.

“Such work takes time in order that it is carried out thoroughly and is reliant on the consent of those whose participation is sought.”

White male stars such as Lord Ian Botham should be leading attempts to end racism and misogyny in English cricket, says Barnie Choudhury (Photo by Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

As a spin doctor, it is my honestly held opinion that this was an attempt at damage limitation.

What’s laughable is that 20-months later, Ahmed and others are no nearer to finding out whether the club accepts it has a culture of toxic racism.

“It was so normalised, and no one cared, to be honest, it was just accepted,” Ahmed told me.

That’s why, as a former chair of a south Asian mental health charity, I was concerned about him.

“I do think about it, most of the times I ask myself what is going to happen? What are they going to do? What action they’re going to take?

“It’s at the back of my back of my mind all the time to be honest.

“It takes a lot to speak out.

“When I speak about it, about the same thing over and over again, it brings back those bad memories.”

Report lethargy

We must ask ourselves, what is taking so long?

Cindy Butts and her team at the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) spoke to 4,000-plus people.

I understand from sources that although she had completed her report, the ECB spent a significant amount of time before finally publishing it.

Similarly, in Essex’s case, is it conceivable that Newton has completed her report?

If she has, it raises the question – why hasn’t the club published it?

If she hasn’t, what’s taking her so long?

Remember a silk can charge as little as £800 per hour, so the costs are racking up for the club.

So, what happened to Ahmed?

When he joined Essex in 2005 one of his white teammates called him a “curry muncher”.

It’s fashionable to describe this as “banter” – after all it could have been worse, his tormentor could have used other racial epithets such as the P-word.

But what racists and bullies never understand is that it’s about power.

The power to control and demand others follow suit.

The power to create a culture of toxicity.

The power to normalise unacceptable behaviour.

Ahmed could have named his tormentor when he appeared before MPs, and no-one could have sued him under parliamentary privilege.

“There is a current player who has abused me who has racially slurred and used a lot of things to bully me throughout my whole career and they are still going,” Ahmed told MPs.

“I do not know what action they will take against that person.

“He is not just a small person; he is a big fish and I do not know what they will do regarding that.”

In 2007, following a terrorist incident, that same player asked Ahmed if he was “going to bomb them”.

Second chances

Taking both these accounts into consideration, I asked Ahmed why didn’t he name and shame his bullying team mate?

His response spoke volumes about his character, crushing any idea that he was a whinger out for revenge.

“I’m not the kind of person who wants to hurt people purposely, I’ll give people a chance, everyone deserves a second chance,” Ahmed told me.

“People make mistakes, and I do understand all of that.

“Unfortunately, Essex, the board, they haven’t been playing the ball.

“They haven’t shown any sympathy or support towards me, or offered any sort of help or even checking up on me to say how are you?”

Barnie Choudhury

I contacted Essex County Cricket Club about the delay in publication, but it didn’t respond.

Cricket has a problem, and only dunces, deniers and dreamers would reject it.

But here’s an axiom.

The power lies in the hands of the majority white people in this overwhelmingly white sport, and the likes of Botham must understand this to be an incontrovertible truth.

Like an alcoholic, we must first acknowledge and accept we have a problem.

The ECB said it gets that, but sadly, in my honestly held opinion, if it cannot persuade its chairs and influential white current and former players to admit racism in their sport, then it is bound to fail.

If the ECB is serious about zero tolerance when it comes to racism, then it must show this in its actions, that includes publicly challenging those who deny it exists.

Botham, this legend of the game, must understand that it takes white people of influence and power to stand up for minorities.

After all, the peer stood shoulder to shoulder with his friend Viv Richards in boycotting South Africa’s white apartheid regime.

He wasn’t grand standing then, and he was rightly applauded by us for his stand.

White power

The wider point is that one respected white male leader could be the catalyst to end the culture of racism and misogyny in a dressing room or club by saying such language, such attitudes, such behaviour are unacceptable in civilised society.

It takes one white male leader in an organisation’s boardroom to enforce, to take a stand and make an example of those who dare to undermine a person because of his or her race, class, gender or sexual orientation.

We are in your hands, ECB and white folk in general. We’ve done our bit.

We people of colour can’t do anymore without your help because you hold the power.

And sadly, even after a report it commissioned, the ECB still doesn’t get that.

Instead, in my honestly held opinion, by not taking on Botham, the ECB offers spin, meaningless apologies and meaningless words.

Why do I say that?

Because actions speak louder than words, and the communities are looking to all the EBC’s executives and NEDs, south Asians and all, to, in the words of those who spoke with me, stand up and be counted.

Otherwise, those intent on rubbishing and denying racism and misogyny know no-one will punish them or take their careers away.

This is a pivotal moment in cricketing history where the ECB understands it now has short of two months to show what it intends to do as action rather than as strategies.

The ECB simply cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of decades past if it truly wishes to secure the game’s future.

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