England captain Ben Stokes ‘deeply sorry’ for victims of cricket discrimination

The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket found discrimination is rife in the game, in England and Wales. ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott summarises the report's damning findings

England men’s captain Ben Stokes has issued an apology to those who have experienced discrimination in cricket and pledged to help deliver a level playing field regardless of “upbringing, race or gender”.

The long-awaited Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket published its findings on Tuesday, delivering a damning report that diagnosed entrenched racism, sexism and class barriers within a sport it branded “elitist and exclusionary”.

The depth of the problems are laid bare over more than 300 pages in a paper which casts a grim shadow over preparations for the second Ashes Test at Lord’s – a venue known as the home of cricket but one that is also symbolic of the game’s relationship with privilege.

Stokes in many ways represents the opposite of that. Born on the other side of the world and educated in a Cumbrian comprehensive school, his ascent to one of the most prestigious sporting offices in the country constitutes a breaking of the traditional ‘future England captain’ mould, a point he was clear to emphasise as he read a heartfelt and personally prepared statement.

But he started with a message to those whose stories had informed the ICEC report.

“To the people involved in the game who have been made to feel unwelcome or unaccepted in the past, I am deeply sorry to hear of your experiences,” he said.

“Cricket is a game that needs to celebrate diversity on all fronts because without diversity, this game would not be where it is at today. As a sport, we need to learn from past mistakes and do all we can to make people feel safe and be themselves at every level.

“I have been an England player since 2011 and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of some incredibly diverse teams and love how everyone has a different story to tell. We must go further and be more inclusive and diverse because the game I love – and millions worldwide love – should be enjoyed without fear of discrimination or judgement whether that be due to your upbringing, race or gender.

“I am Ben Stokes; born in New Zealand, a state-educated pupil who dropped out of school at 16 with one GCSE in PE. I needed help with the spelling and grammar in this speech and I am currently sitting here as the England men’s Test captain. It is clear there is so much more the game has to do and as players we really want to be a part of that to ensure this is truly a sport for everyone.”

In the report, ICEC’s chair Cindy Butts concluded: “The stark reality is cricket is not a game for everyone.”

As the game still processes the damaging fallout from the Yorkshire racism scandal, prompted by the revelations of former player Azeem Rafiq, the England and Wales cricket board chairman Richard Thompson has made an unreserved apology to those who have suffered under cricket’s systemic failings.

England and Wales cricket board chairman Richard Thompson makes a "heartfelt" apology

Faced with this new charge sheet, he told ITV News: "On behalf of the ECB and on behalf of the broader game of cricket, we certainly offer a heartfelt apology to anybody that has felt excluded.

“To see how people have felt excluded, not welcomed, discriminated against when cricket puts itself out there as a game for all, but clearly has not been a game for all. 

"Sometimes you don't like what you see in the mirror, but you've got to be prepared to do it.

"To listen, to act, and that's what we are now going to do.”

Over more than 300 pages, the ICEC report makes 44 recommendations for the ECB to consider.

Azeem Rafiq's allegations of racism at Yorkshire CCC have been at the centre of a scandal in the cricketing world since 2020. Credit: PA

They range from overhauling the pay structure in the women’s game, an action plan to revive Black cricket, removing class barriers, and making the elite pathway more inclusive.

Currently, for example, it’s typical that those chosen for representative cricket have to pay for their kit and coaching - that’s expensive and rules out a high proportion of young cricketers, however good they are.

Private schools dominate the pathway into cricket the report says, and little has been done to tackle the imbalance.

Other recommendations include a cricket regulator to oversee changes and reform of the ECB’s complaints process to encourage rather than hinder whistleblowing.

Cindy Butts said: “People are suffering in silence and are not coming forward and speaking up about their experiences for fear that nothing will be done.

Cindy Butts speaks to ITV News on what must be done to make cricket an inclusive sport

"That they'll be gaslit, that they will face victimisation.”

She reels off a series of “upsetting” examples of where cricket is failing and ignoring barriers to the sport: "The young girl of 13 in the talent pathway being called the ‘N’ word, women who were confronted with signs in the score box that says no bras allowed.

"I mean, this is 2023, not 1923.

"One of the most disappointing things for me was when people in the hundreds spoke to us, mainly Black and Asian, who talked about outperforming their white peers, yet not given a chance being deselected or not chosen.”

Butts’ report recommends the annual Eton v Harrow cricket match at Lords is moved immediately; it is a symbol, she says, of the deep elitism running through cricket.

"I think it's deeply disappointing that they haven't got rid of those matches.

"I think it's indicative and it's symbolic of the class and the elitism that exists within cricket... And that's got to stop.

"And that's why we say, those matches shouldn't continue.

"Women are yet to play a test match at the so-called home of cricket, yet schoolboys do.

"And that coupled with the lack of access that state school kids have to cricket, the fact that the talent pathway isn't free across the board, the fact that cricket is so expensive to play; all of those issues I think speak to a game that I'm afraid isn't for all.”

Butts is also passionate about what she calls the “death of Black cricket” in England and Wales and she blames previous leaders at the ECB.

"It's lamentable. Black cricket has died and has been allowed to die.

"It's been neglected despite all that the ECB have known about the decline in Black cricket, the racism that exists in Black cricket.

"There are complex reasons for it but the point is that nothing has been done until very recently and not enough in any event; not enough has been done to understand that decline in Black cricket."

The ECB says it will take time to digest the ICEC findings and then respond with which recommendations it will take on board, and how quickly they will be implemented.

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