Club Cricket Conference

Thursday, 28th May 2020

Heffer revisits scandal of cricket's ethnic marginalisation

11 May 2016

Personal View: Charles Randall

The world tends to take  notice when columnists in national newspapers tackle a subject. So it was gratifying that Simon Heffer drew attention to club cricket in the Daily Telegraph recently.

Or rather he cited the article by Andrew Miller in the new Wisden Almanack that drew attention to the marginalised status of ethnic players and their leagues. This is an important issue that has been addressed by the Club Cricket Conference for several years, leading to the affiliation of several localised ethnic bodies and the  creation of the National Asian Cricket Council, a voice that should in time wield influence until all cricketers are fully integrated as they should be.

Sadly the ECB seem reluctant to support these initiatives and have failed to  converse adequately with the margins of organised ethnic cricket, an incredibly fertile and enthusiastic sector of the game's population. Cricket's governing body still does not even know how many active cricketers there are, whatever their ethnic origin. They have to rely on computer modelling of surveys and statistics which, as Miller pointed out, suggests about 40 per cent of players are of subcontinent asian origin and that the overall number of active cricketers fell sharply in 2014.  The high number of ethnic  asian players in county age groups is not reflected proportionally in professional cricket, but no attempt at all has been made to find out why.

It is widely accepted that cricket assists the integration of people and communities. Heffer said Miller's Wisden article reminded  him of his emotions in 2005 when it was disclosed that  one of the  London bombers was a regular club cricketer.  "I suspect," he wrote, "I was not the only cricket lover, player or former player at any level, who simply could not compute how a man who played club cricket, with all the decencies and social cohesion it usually entails, could strap a bomb onto himself in a back pack and blow himself up, killing many innocent people in the process – people of the very sort he will have played with or against at weekends. Sheer fanaticism is easier to understand, but not when it is coupled with participation in a highly civilised sport."

Robbie Book, chairman of the CCC, pointed out recently that the National Cricket Conference were preparing to launch a national programme called Character through Cricket. "The programme works on development of identifiable character traits that lead to social integration and life skills essential to becoming a proactive member of the community - all through being coached for cricket," he said.

Heffer wrote in the Daily Telegraph: "How many young Muslim men, if given not just the comradeship of a cricket club and the diversion of playing the game, but also through playing in a league mixed more with people from other backgrounds or cultures, would end up integrating better into British society? Indeed, how many might be steered away from radicalisation by such an opportunity? There are groups working against the radicalisation of Muslims, such as the excellent Quilliam Foundation  –  to whom the ECB and the major urban leagues should reach out. An investment of ECB and, indeed, government money in cricket among ethnic minorities – not just Asian, but also black – would undoubtedly be good for cricket. But more to the point, it would be exceptionally good for society."

Heffer would be forgiven for wondering whether the ECB have the will or expertise to deal with all this.