By Stephen Vaughan
Today’s publication of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket’s (ICEC) report has shed light on a cricketing culture that has excluded and discriminated against too many for too long. As Cindy Butts, Chair of the ICEC, states in her foreword, the stark reality is that cricket is not currently a game for everyone.
Discrimination in our sport has been in the spotlight over the past few years, but the findings contained within the report must serve as a wake-up call to those who still feel problems are isolated, overstated, or simply don’t exist.
Failing to address these issues can have serious consequences. It presents an existential threat to the sport and its institutions. If people do not feel welcomed and included, they will not participate.
It shouldn’t be this way. At Yorkshire, we believe that sport is a unifying force for good – something that brings people together, creating and reinforcing a sense of community among people from a diverse range of backgrounds and abilities. We have seen this first hand over the past 18 months through the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation’s great work partnering with local organisations to support refugees, while many of us will have formed lifelong bonds with teammates and fellow fans through our great sport over the years.
Sadly, here at Yorkshire we are also in a unique position to be able to speak about the dangers of allowing a non-inclusive culture to develop. The well-documented challenges that the Club has faced in tackling the issues of the past demonstrate the risk of turning a blind eye to discrimination in all its forms. Hard work and tough decisions have set the Club on the road to recovery, but it hasn’t been easy.
From our work with the Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club and the ACE Programme, through to our recent accreditation via the Muslim Athlete Charter, we’ve learnt that the only way to achieve success is by working together, from the grassroots level to the elite, in partnership with organisations outside of the sport. As one of the largest county clubs in the country, YCCC has a crucial role to play in leading the way in addressing these issues in partnership with the ECB, counties, partners, politicians, and volunteers.
Positive changes at the club, such as improvements to the matchday experience for fans, a more inclusive events calendar, greater accessibility for young cricketers, and stronger safeguarding measures for anyone interacting with the club, are important. These changes benefit not just one group, but everyone, including people from ethnic minority backgrounds, women and girls, people with disabilities, and less well-off families.
The Pathways programme has been a key factor in increasing access to cricket for young people across the county. In 2022, we introduced measures to increase access for those from lower income households and recruited four high performance coaches to bolster its resources. This focus on increasing accessibility helped drive a 40% increase in attendees for regional observations last year, with a further 1,800 budding cricketers attending so far in 2023. Last week, we were delighted to hold a special celebration of the programme at Headingley, welcoming more than 250 Pathways players onto the pitch during the Vitality Blast match against the Birmingham Bears.
It is important to acknowledge that this is just the beginning of the journey, and there is much still to do. We have faced difficult decisions along the way, but the progress we have made gives hope that the challenges facing the sport we love are not insurmountable and the club’s ambition is to serve as an example for other clubs and institutions to follow. By addressing these issues and working together, we can create a more inclusive and welcoming cricket culture for everyone.
The work we have done is already having a huge impact. Without minimising the scale of the task that we all face, this swift progress should give everyone hope that, while the challenges are significant, they are far from insurmountable. We look forward to working with the ECB as it determines its plan of action over the next three months.
In the meantime, we will continue to update you on the work that we are doing to make cricket a game for everyone, both here at Headingley and in partnership with others.