“This is a once in a generation opportunity to provide a model for learning and change – both in cricket and across the world of sport.”
2021 was the most difficult year in the 158-year history of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, once the beating heart of English cricket and the most successful county club in history. While the world grappled with the ongoing impact of the pandemic, the Club became synonymous with institutional racism and appeared on the front pages for all the wrong reasons. We have been rocked to our foundations.
I was honoured to be appointed Chair two months ago, but I was also very aware that the rebuild – forging real and lasting change – could not happen overnight. Out of adversity, however, I truly believe that there is real opportunity: to become a shining example, leading the way for the rest of the sport by creating a scalable model on diversity and inclusion and creating a space that is welcoming and celebratory of people from all backgrounds. We have started the journey but cannot forget what brought us here.
The brave, shocking testimony of Azeem Rafiq in November was a moment that will resonate across cricket, and more widely, for years to come. The words of Azeem, and many other whistle blowers across the UK and internationally, remain a clear call to the sport that change is urgent, unavoidable, and long overdue.
I am a proud Yorkshireman. I know how important this Club is for the community, the cricketing family and all who are associated with it. Headingley is in our hearts, from Ian Botham’s heroics in the 1981 Ashes, to the drama of Ben Stokes’ swashbuckling innings taking England over the line against Australia in 2019.
From day one, I committed to listen, to learn, and to take action. Since that day, as a Club we have made some difficult decisions – indeed, some of which have been criticised – but all with the clear and singular purpose of addressing the wrongs of the past and doing what is right. I want to make all of us in Yorkshire proud of this Club, from the youngest ambitious player picking up their first bat to our oldest and most venerable Member who has watched us for a lifetime.
As we enter 2022, I firmly believe that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has made significant progress on the long journey to win back pride, as we aim to become that beacon to which the rest of the sport can aspire. We have taken a long, hard and honest look at the Club and what we need to do: to understand individual experiences of discrimination; to review the structures and leadership of the club; and to get under the hood of our culture. All of this with a single objective: to win back our stature within cricket nationally and internationally.
It will not have gone unnoticed that we are now much changed in terms of our leadership and backroom staff, following an important overhaul which led to many departures. These decisions required difficult conversations and were not undertaken lightly but were in the best interests of the Club. This moment of reset – including bringing back former captain Darren Gough as our interim Managing Director of Yorkshire Cricket – will help us create a Club which is led by people who are passionate about progress, and share in our ambition to learn from what happened and be the most forward-thinking Club in the country, on and off the field.
In addition to open applications for 6 new non-executive directors, who we want to be reflective of the communities we serve, I have called an Extraordinary General Meeting in February to vote on changes to our Club rules. We hope to diversify our talent pool by enabling recruitment from outside of our membership, whilst ensuring that our members have a strong voice in how our club is run by inviting two representatives to sit on our Board of Directors. We will be transparent about these processes.
Reflecting on some of the other actions we have taken since November, I am happy that an independent whistleblowing hotline – listening to all those who have experienced discrimination at this Club and in place for the future – was set up in a week, headed by Mohinderpal Sethi QC of Littleton Chambers, an expert in discrimination and abuse in elite sport. We await his findings with interest. The Good Governance Institute is currently independently reviewing the structures and processes through which we operate and, later this month, they will share their proposal with the Board which will form the basis for our action plan regarding the optimum running of the Club. We are also working on plans for a broader listening programme to look at our culture which will be announced shortly, and I am excited by our new partnership with Pakistan Super League team the Lahore Qalandars, which would have been unthinkable just a few months ago given the accusations of systemic racism. This long-term relationship will see us improve access to the sport and to provide opportunities for players at all levels, from grass roots to the professional game; with a key focus on under-represented groups such as women and girls, less well-off families, people with disabilities, and South Asian communities.
Clearly, this is a moment for change in dressing rooms, on pitches and in the stands in stadiums across the country. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) recently announced a game-wide action plan for combatting racism and discrimination, which we welcome, and its Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) hotline confirmed over 2,000 contacts in November.
It is my hope that Yorkshire can set a clear template for other clubs to use so that we as a sport can raise the standard of how we treat others, and how we measure our success. It is also my hope that the people of Yorkshire and our supporters across the UK can now start to feel a glimmer of pride – and, of course, that the ECB’s decision at the end of this month sees our beloved stadium again able to be a global stage for cricketing excellence.
While we still have a long road and a lot of hard work ahead, the potential prize is great: a once in a generation opportunity not only to transform the game in Yorkshire, but also provide a model for learning and change – both in cricket and across the world of sport.
Professor The Lord Kamlesh Patel OBE is Chair of Yorkshire County Cricket Club