Come and chair a county cricket club – knowledge and reasoning not essential

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It was fun to get an insight into the reasoning of some of English cricket’s key decision-makers. Sorry, not fun – gravely concerning and wildly infuriating.

There have been two big discussion points relating to county cricket in recent times:

  1. Institutional racism
  2. Its inability to produce decent Test cricketers

As a direct result of the former, a light is currently being shone on those who make decisions that also relate to the latter.

It’s not enormously inspiring.

You’ll probably by now have seen the comments made by Middlesex chairman Mike O’Farrell when speaking to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing yesterday, but let’s recap anyway.

“The other thing in the diversity bit is that the football and rugby world becomes much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community,” he said. “And in terms of the south Asian community, we’re finding that they do not want necessarily to commit the same time that is necessary to go to the next step because they sometimes prefer to go into other educational fields, and then cricket becomes secondary. Part of that is because it’s a rather more time-consuming sport than some others. So we’re finding that’s difficult.”

He also seemed to suggest that as you don’t need to be “six-foot-five and built of muscle” for cricket, the sport is open to “disadvantaged people”.

O’Farrell later apologised and ‘clarified’ his comments by saying something completely different.

What do these comments tell us?

These are pretty incredible things to say and the pure, base-level awfulness of them has already been well dissected elsewhere.

Azeem Rafiq, for example, highlighted how worrying it is that O’Farrell felt so comfortable to speak in public and express those views. This is a man who clearly operates within a subculture where these are pretty normal things to think.

‘Minorities sort of drift away from the game at a certain point’ only really makes sense as a defence if you think active racism is the only issue facing the game. O’Farrell didn’t come across as a person who’d considered that passive exclusion could also be a problem; that a mindless adherence to the status quo might result in some people having a harder path to walk than others.

Ebony Rainford-Brent called his comments “outdated” which doesn’t seem quite the right word. Yes, there was a time when these sorts of ideas were widespread, but they were never correct. It’s what he said that is wrong, not when he said it.

What else do these comments tell us?

A secondary aspect that has been less remarked on is what these moments tell us about the basic reasoning abilities of county chairmen. (And we may as well say ‘chairmen’ rather than ‘chairs’ because since the departure of Leicestershire’s Mehmooda Duke in November, they are all men.)

Basic reasoning. Just a fundamental failure in basic reasoning. Because O’Farrell was putting forward ‘the attraction of football’ and ‘a preference for education’ as explanations for the lack of diversity in first-class cricket. They’re not explanations. They are in fact the very kinds of things that demand explanation.

For a start, these are obviously gross generalisations. But even then, if the football and rugby worlds do ‘become much more attractive’ to a group of people at a certain age, do you not then ask yourself why that is? Is that not a trend that demands scrutiny? And if another group suddenly ‘prefers’ education, you’re then confronted with obvious questions about what might be shaping that preference.

The way O’Farrell presents the inarguable whitening of the sport as players start to near the professional game, it’s almost like some magical phenomena that cannot be explained – just a thing that happens.

That’s how a three-year-old perceives the world. A county chairman should be a little more curious about the mechanisms influencing behaviour.

The accessibility comment, however, smacked of someone who can’t even gather the most basic facts about the world around them. Decision-making ability becomes almost irrelevant when the person apparently believes those decisions are about ensuring the sport can be played by malnourished Romanian orphans.

Conclusion

Maybe we’re being unfair. Maybe O’Farrell is guilty of the lesser, but still significant crime of being really, really bad at explaining himself. Maybe he was just nervous and gabbling and everything came out all wrong.

It didn’t seem like that though.

He seemed like a man who:

  1. Didn’t understand the nature of the problem
  2. Didn’t know the facts about the problem
  3. Thanks to a fundamental lack of curiosity and well-developed blind spots, was not even aware that he didn’t understand the problem or know the facts

It wasn’t just O’Farrell either. Hampshire’s Rod Bransgrove said he didn’t believe the game was institutionally racist and also expressed his belief that Hampshire is already “overachieving” in some areas with regards to diversity. Then he told a story about how a black Hampshire player used to call himself “Token”. Then he mentioned that he’d had dinner with Desmond Haynes.

This is all very bad news for tackling racism in cricket. It is also very bad for every other aspect of cricket, because these are the decision-makers and this is how they make decisions – in ignorance.

Personally, we want to see all youngsters given a fair crack at becoming cricketers and all young players given a fair crack at becoming professionals and all professionals given a fair crack at becoming England players.

We also want to see a domestic game that isn’t a wearying slab of half-arsedness, where half the players in any given match are pacing themselves with one eye on all the upcoming fixtures lined up ahead of them.

Yet it is the county chairs that decide the structure of the cricket that is played in England and it takes a two-thirds majority to agree one way or another. O’Farrell and Bransgrove are just two of 18, but based on the insights into their thinking they have provided, do you trust them to make good decisions on anything?

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25 comments

  1. Great article.

    No, I dont.

    And consider that these chairmen are the smooth talking executives. What is the world of the county committees like?

  2. I have neither the emotional nor physical strength at the moment to write much in response to this piece.

    I have known Mike O’Farrell for a great many years and have worked reasonably closely with him since he became Chair of Middlesex in 2016.

    KC writes: “Maybe we’re being unfair. Maybe O’Farrell is guilty of the lesser, but still significant crime of being really, really bad at explaining himself. Maybe he was just nervous and gabbling and everything came out all wrong. It didn’t seem like that though.”

    Of course it is easy and self-satisfying to pile in.

    But think on before you pile in some more, because the stereotype of an aged former big-businessman, chairing a cricket club, who therefore must be one of the dinosaurs at the root of the racism problems in cricket…is indeed its own form of prejudice. In this instance, in my view, wholly misplaced.

    Mike O’Farrell is an exceptionally good man, who has seen diversity and inclusion in Middlesex CCC as utterly central to his Chairmanship – driving through a report (partly of my crafting) that made diversity and inclusion a central pillar of Middlesex’s strategy. The outputs of that work included substantial changes of governance, bringing the wider club network together and requiring changes at board level to increase diversity there. Changes on the back of those will take time, but they are happening. Mike O’Farrell also supported the front-running Middlesex did in establishing the London Cricket Trust (for which I am the Middlesex trustee) to increase participation in cricket across London through providing facilities, as the state school system here is now almost completely devoid of playing facilities.

    Parenthetically, Mike O’Farrell was the only county chair to vote against the proposal for The Hundred on moral grounds.

    I know that Mike O’Farrell will be heartbroken by what happened yesterday; not for his own sake but because of the harm that his poor performance might have caused to Middlesex CCC and, even more importantly, to a cause that is dear to his heart…and to mine.

    1. Isa Guha describes him as, “one of the good guys and wants to learn but sadly not educated quickly enough on how to talk about it.”

      1. Bransgrove certainly seemed a lot more head-in-the-sand about things – O’Farrell didn’t come across that way at all – but it’s hard to entirely write off these comments as an unfortunate choice of words.

      2. This was definitely a performance that would have benefitted from some communications coaching re sensitive topics. But pointing out that South Asian families can have very strong views on education and the acceptability of certain career paths is not “racist” or “outdated”. Yes it’s a generalisation – albeit one that can be backed up by cold hard statistics if so required – and the situation can vary a lot both within and between different South Asian communities of different generations. But trends and generalisations can be useful as well as dangerous; the key is what you do about it.

        I can tell you for a fact there are Asian families in London who limit their kids’ engagement in sports because they want to maximise their out-of-school hours spent on study and education. Cricket eats a lot of hours, but “serious” rather than “recreational” cricket eats an awful lot more. More training requirements, facilities and matches further away needing more travel time, and all this often on top of non-elite cricket commitments. Actually acknowledging that fact is a necessary step to addressing it: one aspect of making elite pathways more attractive to Asian families in particular might be to make a strong, loud commitment to minimising the programme’s educational impact. Even that’s more complicated than it sounds – strictly limiting total hours of cricket activity permitted in school-weeks might be a no-brainer (particularly if this is not thought to stunt sporting development) but shifting activity to school holidays can also be exclusionary, e.g. to the many British Pakistani families where the kids spend the six-week summer holiday staying with relatives in Pakistan, whereas the Easter holiday and subsequent half-term break are key study/revision periods. Finding a structure that “works” would need a lot of community feedback.

        This is by no means the only barrier to Asian participation – alcohol is a very deeply ingrained part of “cricket culture” in England (as a brief search of the KC archive will confirm!) and where this crosses into the dressing room, as we know happens even at the elite level, that can be a real problem for people with a Muslim background. And this is just scratching the surface. But a lot of these barriers relate to cultural differences, so making it harder to acknowledge these differences – even when expressed rather clumsily by an old white male! – by jumping down the throat of anyone who raises them seems more likely to obfuscate the problems than to resolve them. I found the following piece about football interesting and suspect many issues raised apply to cricket too, but dread to think what people’s reaction to some of these points would be if the interviewer and interviewee were white. (Particularly “Asians are too unfit to play sports because of samosas, how racist can you get?!” angle. But the flip side of that is there’s a real need for culturally sensitive sports nutrition advice – what proportion of the “healthy” meals for athletes you see on your social media feed are based on Western diets?) https://www.birminghamtigers.co.uk/news/birmingham-tigers—investigating-the-lack-of-south-asians-in-mainstream-football

        Where I strongly agree with Yer Maj’s blog post is its contempt of passivity or the air of inevitably. To identify a trend yet use it merely as an excuse compounds any offence caused in the first place. The point is to do something active about it. If you think Asian families feel conflicting priorities between cricketing and educational commitments, what are you doing to make them clash less and/or reassure parents and children that a cricket pathway, e.g. via university centres of excellence, need not hinder a successful professional career post-cricket? If you think the Caribbean community are culturally drifting away from the game and towards football and other sports (sadly true even in the Caribbean itself, so I wouldn’t want to lay all the blame on county chairmen however incompetent) what is it you’re doing to re-engage them? For those who don’t know London’s geography, many Indian and Pakistani communities (rather less so for Bangladeshis) are suburban with relatively good access to cricket, whereas the Caribbean communities are more concentrated in areas which have become a facilities desert. It’s absolutely incumbent on cricket authorities to put the effort/money in and go out to engage with inner city groups, rather than expect – out of some residual loyalty or ancestral memory of the sport – people to go out of their way to engage with cricket.

        Another trend I’ve not seen much discussion of is that Caribbean people have moved from the majority to a surprisingly small, and rapidly shrinking, proportion of black people in London, due to migration from Africa and to a lesser extent Latin America. That’s going to make cricket even more racially unrepresentative unless it finds ways to engage with some of these relatively new communities – since cricket’s not broadly popular in West Africa, where a lot of the migration has been from, that means coming from a standing start. Similarly the East European, East Asian and Southeast Asian populations have been rising – it’s a new market opportunity, but also, given those regions’ non-cricketing background, quite a challenge. The kind of challenge that could only be met by a very dynamic and multifaceted approach, but one I’ve not seen much evidence of so far in my neck of the woods. Fail to meet that challenge, and cricket will fail the “representation” test even worse than it does at present. I sense a lot of lazy implicit assumptions when people write about these issues: about most immigration being with a Commonwealth background and apparently these are the kind of people we expect “should” be playing cricket, in some sense. But in recent years, a lot of migration has been non-Commonwealth; even within the Commonwealth there are plenty of countries where cricket never really took off; even if someone has 2nd or 3rd generation heritage from a place which is or was cricket-mad, they’re not very likely to play if all the places they could have done so locally have been shut down; and even if they do play, you might need to tailor your offering to their (or their family’s) life preferences if you’re going to tempt them to make the leap from playing for fun to joining a professional pathway.

        I know this reply is already too long but the last point ties into something I feel passionate about – which is that we have a real problem if the parent who says “son, you’re spending too much time on cricket, your grades are slipping, you need to cut back the cricket and study more” is, objectively, right about what will most benefit their child in the long run. I’m not saying this is another great excuse not to bother about Asian and black cricketers lost to the high level game (“it’s probably for their own good so we shouldn’t feel bad about it”). But the pathway to professional cricket is pretty arduous and time-consuming, with relatively few ending up with a contract, and even then many players who turn professional leave the county game within 5 years without ever attaining international honours or a decent pay-packet. Clearly it would be very easy for such programmes to do more harm than good. There’s recently been some insightful media coverage of the difficulties faced by footballers who drop out of the game during or shortly after their academy stint, and the lack of support they get. I haven’t seen so much attention for the cricketing equivalents. There’s a lot of us who’d love to see more demographically representative teams playing for county or country, whether that’s for the better results if we tapped the wider talent pool or our attraction to the sheer spectacle of diversity (and I fear there’s some uncomfortable truths in English cricket fandom’s cult appreciation of Moeen’s beard or Monty’s turban, which seems at times closer to the attitude of the Victorian circus-goer than a deep appreciation of their personal and spiritual significance). So before we try to funnel hundreds of ethnic minority youngsters onto performance pathways for the benefit of our own personal entertainment, we really owe it to them to check that these pathways are beneficial, especially to those who don’t “make it”. That might mean baking in better support for academic and vocational education, making sure there’s careers support available (I know the PCA do a lot of work here for cricketers who were contracted without ever really making it beyond the Second XI, but I don’t know if it extends down the age groups), some system for monitoring outcomes, ongoing support for long-term effects of cricket-related injuries (the drop from world-class physio and medical support, to being left to deal with it on your own once it’s clear your career is never coming back from it, has often been flagged up as a failure of football academies). Doubtless plenty of other sensible suggestions too.

        We might even want to look at what happens the level below, where kids learn the game before being selected for pathways. I was very moved by a Twitter thread I can’t now track down, where a father bemoaned watching his son’s youth football team getting thrashed every week. Not that he minded the results, per se – he’d only let his son join because his team treated football pretty casually and had minimal training requirements. Rather, he was upset that the other teams in the league were so immaculately drilled in their formation and passing. Ahh, I thought, this is about to turn into just another rant on how English grassroots football is over-coached and our youngsters aren’t liberated to develop the ball control and creativity of our rivals. But that didn’t turn out to be his point at all. The dad was black, the lad was black, almost all the kids on the pitch were black. Underprivileged groups statistically less likely to do well at school. So why had that been spending hours upon hours on the training ground perfecting their formations? They’d been sold a dream of being “spotted” but truth is less than 1% could end up as professionals, and even if they did it was more likely to be in a lower division or non-league than at the top of the pyramid as they imagined. The way the dad saw it, football at this non-elite level should just be about having fun, and taking a professional-style approach with long and strict practice requirements was both disproportionate and damaging to their education.

        Interestingly, he said he was tempted to encourage his younger kids to get into rugby union instead, since the governing body imposes very strict limits on total training and playing time for school-aged players which should mean it interferes less with education. Personally I’m sceptical of how well that works – if you know any young people who play semi-serious levels of rugby, by their late teens they are doing obscene amounts of gym work that I don’t believe count to the training limit. But the general principle made me think. There are certainly young cricketers who play and train with both club and school sides as well as with a private academy (and these academies also work on a “sell the dream” basis, boasting how many of their recent cohorts were “spotted” and taken into county academy set-ups). I’m too unfamiliar with the pathway selection process to know whether “spending crazy amounts of time playing as much cricket as possible” and/or “lots of expensive private coaching” are basically prerequisites for getting in (I’m sure they aren’t in any explicit way, but is it like the over-trained young footballers who simply wipe the floor with the less drilled opposition?), although if that is the direction of travel, then there are reasons – including but not limited to inclusion and diversity – why you might want to nip it in the bud.

        Most of this reply is more for Ged than KC, at the risk of teaching someone who’s thought far more about all this than me to suck eggs. I hope there’s a bit of food for thought buried in there.

      3. Never mind ‘reply to comment’, we need a ‘reply to paragraph’ feature.

        Thanks for that, Bail-out. There’s a fair bit in there that responds to Fred Grace’s comment below as well.

  3. Please explain to me. The observation that certain ethnic or cultural groups (and they do exist-we are culturally diverse) show a preference for certain sports over others is either a fact (if provable statistical evidence exists) or an opinion that others can disagree with if they like. How on earth is it racist? it is not stating or implying any inferiority of any group because of this preference. Denying facts in order to be politically correct is not likely to lead to productive solutions.

    1. It’s not about racism so much as passivity – or at least the perception of it. The issue in English cricket is not so much the lack of diversity in the professional game as the lack of diversity in the professional game compared to (a) the past and (b) in lower levels of cricket. That contrast implies that something is going wrong at a certain point for some strands of society and that is what the game is being asked to explore. As such, “it just happens,” is not an acceptable answer.

      Different levels of cricket do make different demands and cultural differences mean it’s unlikely there’ll be the same ethnic ratios as you move up what always seems to be called ‘the pyramid’. But it’s a question of proportionality. English professional cricket has become massively white and wealthy to a degree beyond it being merely a matter of cultural taste.

      Ged says that O’Farrell is a good guy who is actively working to encourage greater diversity and inclusivity at Middlesex. We’re happy to accept that as fact, but we’d also argue that appearances matter. Messaging is, at times, an important aspect of the role of chairing a first-class county. This is our central point really, which is that it’s not O’Farrell that’s the problem – he’s just unfortunate in providing material to be used as an example. The problem is the collective who chair the first-class counties and their control of so many aspects of the English game.

  4. I think my main takeaway from this is that apparently there is no upper limit on the length of comments that this website will allow.

    Slightly more seriously, I think it’s pretty evident that there’s a need for a change in outlook amongst the leadership of County Cricket and English Cricket in general. I can’t speak to the competence or good faith of those involved, but there’s plenty of evidence that the approach taken at the moment isn’t working the way it should.

    It’s good that this sort of thing can be discussed on here alongside weightier topics like former Kent players and their potential glirine steeds.

  5. I’m unsure about commenting. Racism is a major problem in our country and in cricket. I’m white, and it’s possible that my irritation with one part of this story says things about me that I would find uncomfortable. Just because I’m commenting on that part doesn’t mean that I think it’s the most important part of the story, just that it’s a part of the story that is significant and isn’t talked about in the media.

    The quotes published yesterday (he may have said worse things, I haven’t listened to the audio) were self-exculpatory and it’s absolutely fair to challenge them, but the outrage and disgust from the media seems off. It’s as if it’s become a game, where what matters is what is sayable and what isn’t, rather than what is and isn’t reality. Cultural explanations for low participation in professional sport by people of South Asian ethnicity are significant – it’s a pattern that can be seen in other sports and other countries. Football is much more widely supported and played than cricket among British people of Afro-Caribbean ethnicity, even those whose parents or grandparents are cricket fans, and it seems unlikely that this is primarily due to decisions made by cricket administrators.

    Mr O’Farrell’s comments have led to a huge amount of negative coverage from both right and left wing media, in a way that is likely to have real consequences for him, and to a degree that seems unmoored from the things he said.

    Maybe this is inevitable when you’re trying to address passive exclusion rather than open racism. We’re wired to respond to stories about bad people doing bad things, rather than normal people dealing with complex institutions where attributing causation is difficult. But I don’t think it helps. It means that anti-racism becomes primarily about navigating a system of language where saying things that are true can destroy you. The incentives for people in power become awful. There is nothing that Mr O’Farrell could have done to help address the problem of systemic racism that would have had anything approaching the impact of his comments yesterday, and I would have no greater confidence in his ability or motivation to tackle systemic racism if he was better at knowing which truths are currently unsayable.

    I’m afraid I’m using this comments section largely to offload frustration with the impact of the media as a whole rather than respond to what you’ve said. Sorry about that.

    1. We think those are valid points and it’s also unfortunately true that the current county chairs are in many ways merely the people without, um, chairs when the music has stopped.

      There has been long-term passivity (as well as far worse) about the direction in which the game has been heading for many years now. Some influential people – and O’Farrell appears to be one – are making efforts to address that, but the game had already descended to a point where people are very angry about things.

      Personally, we’re aware that no individual deserves the level of ire we feel as it’s a cumulative thing really. Unfortunately, the current scrutiny means that now is the time that things are being discussed and feelings vented. And it’s a lot easier to explain broader ideas using examples.

      It would perhaps be good if the wider media’s tendency to stick the boot in were somehow tempered by greater forgiveness and proportionality in the longer-term. That was perhaps more likely in earlier eras where people were perhaps more loyal to a particular publication. Nowadays the long-tail of a story tends to get drowned out.

      1. Agree with all of that. I don’t even think individual members of the media are deliberately sticking the boot in – they want things to change, and by the nature of their job they’re focused on and very good at the game of hyperreal simulation. But as a way of doing things, I don’t think it helps.

  6. Flipping heck, lads. It’s all getting a bit heavy round here. Can we have a picture of an indifferent cat to lighten the mood?

  7. Some really excellent points in the above comments – not least the superb exposition by Bail-out, which is worthy of its own Patreon-length KC piece…or two.

    (Parenthetically, when I was in Bhutan 20+ years ago, I wrote a letter to the national newspaper Kuensel, which had an article pondering why the nation’s stock market had hardly any trading. I wrote a letter to the paper explaining why I thought that was the case and was glad to see my words in print while Daisy and I were still in Bhutan. One of my colleagues, on my return to the office, counted the words in the two clippings I showed him and announced, mirthfully, that my letter was longer than the article to which it referred. Bail-out’s fascinating piece-within-a-piece is, at 2000+ words, almost exactly twice as long as KC’s piece.)

    More seriously, what I like about this site is the level of interest in (and the ability to have level-headed debate about) difficult and complex subjects…

    …and they don’t get much more difficult and complex than diversity and inclusion in cricket.

    The very fact that we are debating the points in detail and trying to feel our way to solutions is important and grounds for some optimism at a dark time. Thanks again KC & all.

    1. Agreed. The article and debates above (digested with great interest) bring to mind the thin ice surrounding theses on sport and determinism.

    2. Glad you found it of some interest Ged, or at least you have neither died of old age nor boredom having read it. Would be interested, since you are in the know about these things, how counties (or at least, Middlesex) might be thinking of targeting communities with non-cricketing backgrounds? This is an area where cricket’s relative lack of mainstream cultural exposure and tendency to rely on kids getting into the game through clubs rather than (state) schools could really come back to bite it.

      1. It is an excellent question, Bail-out.

        The first thing to say is that Middlesex has a top notch participation team which works extremely well in the community. It targets development activity towards less-advantaged communities, which tend to correlate strongly with the “non-cricketing cultures and backgrounds” to which you refer. Formal targeting of specific cultures/communities does not form part of that programme as far as I am aware. I’m not convinced that it should. We do know we have more work to do in some boroughs than in others, but that is more to do with the extent to which we get help and collaboration with the local councils than it is to do with the specific minority groups that might reside disproportionately in those boroughs. Don’t get me started on the topic of moribund councils.

        Our London-wide approach with the London Cricket Trust, similarly, is targeted at demographic need, which to some extent (but not entirely) correlates with the presence of minority ethnic/cultural communities. We have put in just shy of 50 facilities so far and should be up to 70 or so by the end of 2022.

        The next phase of our work is likely to focus more on activation and also on initiatives around facilities other than non-turf pitches and nets in parks. We have a full programme of the latter rolling out 2022 and are in tandem planning that “beyond” activity for 2023 et. seq.

        Final thing to say on this is that there is a London Marathon Charitable Trust activation initiative jointly with the ECB that was due to kick off in the spring of 2020. The last meeting of any sort that I went to before the March 2020 lockdown was about that. The initiative has of course been severely affected by the pandemic, having had to curtail all activity in 2020 and only being able to undertake limited activity in 2021. But that initiative is very much targeted at sports activation more generally for communities that have a low activity uptake and/but will be using our London Cricket Trust facilities as magnets for community activity. That is likely to cover many of the “non-cricketing backgrounds” to which you refer.

        Watch this space for news on these things when it becomes announce able – KC has been very kind (and uncharacteristically speedy) in providing me with space on this site when there have been news items about the stuff with which I am involved or connected…e.g. https://www.kingcricket.co.uk/ab-de-villiers-spotted-in-an-unusual-place-helping-get-cricket-back-into-londons-parks-and-commons/2019/07/17/

  8. Well, I’m a long time reader, but never posted (I know, not a unique intro’).

    The comments have been a very interesting read, and it’s a pleasure to see polite reasoning being displayed throughout.

    If I may add a little, without covering too much of what’s already been well said. My comments relate solely to ‘inclusion’ and not necessarily cricket, or even sport.

    The issue of inclusion is a broad one, and it is worthwhile looking outside the box. I have personally experienced this debate in birdwatching and rock climbing. The inclusion not only includes skin colour, but also, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Virtually all local debate on these groups (other than gender in birdwatching; where there are far more males than females) that I’ve been involved in were rendered pointless and ceased to be discussed when it was found that there was no exclusion, although such debates will continue here and there. Certain people were trying to see something that wasn’t there, most having a knee-jerk reaction to news events totally unconnected with the social world we lived in, which didn’t help anyone (and included a bit of a backlash as essentially those bringing up the debate were accusing everyone of being a bigot. That really didn’t help at all). However, as written above, there was observed bias. No-one really knows why there is a gender bias in birdwatching (although fear of being alone in an isolated area has been said by some women, although I know men who have the same fear). This gender bias is also present in amateur photography but oddly not so much in professional photography (my business). Again no-one really knows why. I state these examples to show that that bias exists elsewhere, but not necessarily for the ‘popular’ negative reasons that people like to put forward. Some of it can be based on fear. Some of it more benign. Statistical bias (not the other meaning of bias) is very likely complex with many multi-faceted reasons, not one simple reason that we can all get our heads around.

    Another point that has already been mentioned (and this is a simple one), is that certain groups may just not be interested. I give one example, but I cannot for the life of me remember the details (place, time, names involved). There was concern that people visiting a ‘beauty spot’, I think in the Pennines, were overwhelmingly white. There was a strong Asian community nearby, and the authorities-that-be were concerned that they were being ‘excluded’ because of their ethnicity and wanted to encourage them to walk up hills. They wanted to enact a process by which they could ‘engage’ the Asian community into doing so. They since learned from the Asian community, that they simply were not interested in walking up steep hills and for no other reason. (If anyone knows this story, please do correct me as I’m relying on memory). I can’t really see the authorities-that-be forcing members of the Asian community to walk up hills, just to balance out the numbers; and this brings up another point.

    There is the risk that by actively pursuing and targeting inclusiveness of those that have a different cultural background and upbringing that it would be seen as a bunch of middle-class white people wanting everyone to be like them for various ill-percieved reasons not least because you’re seen as under-privileged. In my last place of work, I had a West Indian friend who expressed that exact sentiment and she found it quite offensive that people felt she needed to be “looked after” because of her skin colour. Those that defend the non-white groups also run the risk of being racist by the fact that they are seeing the colour of their skin and not for who they are culturally or as individual human beings. As the same West Indian friend also said, all she cared about was having equal opportunity and consideration as everyone else.

    Furthermore, one has to be careful not to over-emphasise ‘inclusion’ where the inclusion of someone is more equal than the inclusion of another (to paraphrase George Orwell).

    Finally, I wonder if there is a potential elephant in the room, the ‘elephant’ being that kids in general may not be as interested in playing sport (let alone cricket) as the kids were in the past? Where I and many used to play football and cricket (as kids in 1980’s south Dorset), there were many others doing the same. That recreation ground is still there, and I lived only a couple of hundred metres away from it until a few years ago. By that time, at weekends, all I would see were dog walkers, throughout the year. No kids at all! Not even walking with parents. On the face of it, it has no relevance to the discussion, but maybe a detailed analysis might throw up some aspect(s) not previously considered.

    Cheers!

    1. Exclusion versus plain fundamental uninterest is a thing that has to be kept in mind when pushing anything like this. This is why you have to ask ‘why?’ about each element. Why are there so many Asian club cricketers and so few in professional cricket? Why were there so many more black British cricketers 20 years ago? Why has the professional game become dominated by people who went to public schools? When you have answers to these questions, you can then assess those answers for fairness.

      We wouldn’t argue in favour of bleaching cricket of its entire culture to ensure a banal neutrality equally (un)appealing to absolutely everyone. But we would say that if some strands of cricket’s existing culture – Asian club cricket, say – hits a roadblock at a certain point, as seems to have been the case at Yorkshire, then that is definitely an issue.

      Obviously not all aspects of inclusion are as clear-cut as that, which is why it’s quite a hard topic to talk about in general terms.

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