• Thursday, December 01, 2022

HEADLINE STORY

EXCLUSIVE: “WE’LL END RACISM IN YORKSHIRE”

Lord Kamlesh Patel

By: BARNIE CHOUDHURY

The chair of Yorkshire cricket has urged south Asian communities to trust that his team and he will stamp out racism at the club.

Lord Patel of Bradford was speaking exclusively to Eastern Eye after the culture, media and sport select committee concluded there was “deep-seated racism in cricket”.

The peer became the club’s chair last November (5).

The MPs held a hearing into Yorkshire after off-spinner, Azeem Rafiq, complained about the bigotry he faced during two spells at the club.

Last week (14) the committee recommended that the government should limit public funding unless the sport tackled “an endemic problem across the whole of cricket”.

“Clearly, the report rightly says there’s a big problem at Yorkshire,” said the peer.

“But even more than that, it says it’s a problem across cricket, it’s not just Yorkshire.

“What happened to Azeem could have happened anywhere.

“I take heart from the report acknowledging that the things we’ve done are heading in the right direction.

“We face a long road ahead, but I’m feeling very optimistic because, as I’ve always said, it’s a once in a generation opportunity to really change cricket in England and Wales.

“Trust me, and the people who are working with me. It’s not just me. I’m learning, and I’m listening to everyone, even the critics.”

TESTIMONY: Azeem Rafiq
TESTIMONY: Azeem Rafiq

Recruitment process

Eastern Eye has learnt that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the game’s regulator, and Sport England are advising Yorkshire on the recruitment process.

We can reveal that they, and not Yorkshire, have appointed international executive headhunting firm Perrett Laver to find non-executive directors.

“I’m confident we’ll get the best in class, and they will be reflective of the population itself.

“The fact that we’ve got over 80 applications from across the world says we’ve got a good opportunity to pick right people.

“Perrett Laver understands that we’re looking for a diverse, highly experienced group of people.”

In the past 70 days, the club has sacked 16 staff, set up a whistleblowing hotline and settled an employment tribunal with Rafiq, whose revelations rocked the game.

Gone are director of cricket, Martyn Moxon, and first-team coach Andrew Gale.

In comes former captain, Darren Gough, as the club’s managing director until the end of the 2022 season.

Former England bowlers Ryan Sidebottom and Steve Harmison are also part of the coaching team, but only on an interim basis.

“We’re going through the most full and transparent interview process and shortlisting process.

“It’s a blind process, so we don’t see the names. We’ve done everything by the book.

“We’re currently interviewing, and we’ll be announcing new coaches, backroom staff and non-executive directors in the coming weeks and months.

“I’m confident, we’ll have a group of people, executives and non-executives who reflect the population that Yorkshire serves.

“We’re not picking people simply on the basis of colour, we’re picking the best people, but we’re making sure everybody has an opportunity.

“We wouldn’t be picking people who are reflective of the population we serve if they’re all white, then we’ve got something wrong.”

Test matches 

As a result of the racism, the ECB took away Yorkshire’s right to host test matches, a big money-spinner for the club.

Yorkshire has also lost several sponsors.

Rafiq welcomed the MPs’ report, and he said that test matches should resume at Headingly.

“We’ve always had one relationship and that is if you do the right thing, I will support you, and if you don’t do the right thing, I’ll challenge you,” Patel said when asked whether he had spoken with the former player.

“I’m really heartened that he said test matches should return.

“It’s a big move eight weeks after what he did because he’s been encouraged by the changes we’ve made.

“I’ve always said one thing; the guy’s phenomenally brave, I don’t think I’d have the courage to go as far as he’s gone.

“He put his own life, his family’s life, in trauma.

“The least we can do is deliver on that promise that we said we would deliver to pay back his trust in us.”

Some journalists have made a lot about Patel’s desire to get international cricket back to Yorkshire.

But they have failed to explain why this is so close to his heart – and financial benefits are not the main reason.

“It would mean we’ve certainly exceeded a very, very tough list of criteria that’s been set out for Yorkshire to achieve to even get there.

“The fact that we would get that back means we’ve done an enormous amount of work.

“I’d argue we’ve done something like eight months work in eight weeks.

“It’s not just about ticking boxes; it’s about providing a sustainable foundation from which to go forward for the coming years.

“Long term success is Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and cricket, is again, for me, a game, for everyone, irrelevant of your faith, your background or affordability.”

“Endemic racism”

Speaking during a virtual event last week (12), organised by the British Future think tank and Eastern Eye’s parent company, Asian Media Group, Sunder Katwala, praised Patel “as a leader in the tone that he struck”.

“All institutions are going to have to get more confident talking about race, and talking about difference,” said the director of British Future.

“There’s no institution in this country that is fully confident about that, and you only get that confidence if you’ve got those relationships.

“But what we’re going to get is growing diversity in our country, you’re gonna have to get more confident about it.”

The panellists said that the sport would change once it realised it would lose money, lose its reputation, and it understood there was political will to eradicate racism from the game.

“Institutional racism is rife, it’s everywhere, and it’s just the way the country is, isn’t it?” remarked sport reporter, James Butler.

The cricket podcaster was the journalist who first interviewed Rafiq about his experiences at Yorkshire.

“It’s because the country is run by white people primarily for white people, and it’s having to change because more people of colour are coming into the country,” he continued.

“I’ve learned more about race and racism in the last 18 months than I ever really wanted to.”

He agreed that British society had to start talking to one another.

“In the past, I haven’t called people out [about racism], and I’m ashamed of that,” said Butler.

“The majority of my learnings have come from mixing with people who are different to me.”

But what could cricket do to get rid of racism, which MPs said was endemic in the game?

After Rafiq’s testimony to MPs, the ECB created a 12-point plan to tackle racism.

Butler told the virtual event audience that the cricket watchdog had made one fundamental mistake.

“The key thing with that is to actually go out to the different cultures and actually make them own that plan,” he said.

“If you end up just going to a cricket club in Bradford and saying this is the 12 point plan, this is how it’s gonna work, that’s just a white guy telling other people how this is going to operate, isn’t it?

“You need to make people actually own the sport and own the changes in the sport, otherwise, it’s going to be something that’s dictated to people, and that that isn’t a very healthy way forward.”

Political messaging

For Katwala, it was important that the politicians understood their role in tackling racism not just in sport, but society.

“We had an exceptionally polarised debate about the Sewell report [into institutional racism in the UK] which was in denial about what was going on.

“Yet some months later, we can all agree that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has got a problem of institutional racism.

“In a way Sajid Javid did a great thing with the intervention he made [with his Tweet about P*** never being banter] bringing the government behind.

“If they learned something from football and taking the knee and the way the public reacted, that was a positive chance to have a less polarised right.

“Our leaders can put the heat in, or they can help to manage the heat and help us try and find the common ground.

“We don’t want a Donald Trump America, if they choose to dial up the heat on all sides.”

Rules change

Lord Patel has called an extraordinary general meeting of Yorkshire in February to vote on changes to the club’s rules.

He will also face MPs once again to update them on what changes it and he have made.

“I’ll outline the progress we’ve made by then 10 weeks in, what we’ve achieved, there’s a whole host of things we’ve done,” he told Eastern Eye.

“I’ll be outlining how we intend to ensure we keep building on them, how we intend to monitor them, and how we intend to work with ECB and Sport England and anyone else that wishes to work with us, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission.”

Patel revealed the pressures of taking on a role which means so much to him as a proud Yorkshireman and huge cricket fan.

“It brings back history,” he explained. “All the things I suffered, my friends faced, as kids, as youngsters, and as adults. That never goes away.

“The majority of people that I’ve met and talked to are supportive of what we’re doing.

“They understand this a huge challenge, and it’s never happened in the last 150 years.

“But they see more than a glimmer of hope, that once in a lifetime opportunity.

“I’m talking to hundreds of people, hundreds. A minority have been offensively critical.

“The message to the people who are unsure is that we’re heading absolutely in the right direction.

“Everything we’ve done is about ensuring that Yorkshire gets back on the front pages for the right reasons, and that’s the most important thing.”

Eastern Eye

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