In response to a racist comment made more than 5 years after a at board meeting, Essex County Cricket Club (ECCC) have been fined £50,0000 by the England Cricket Board’s (ECB) cricket discipline commission.
What better way to reaffirm their commitment to anti-discrimination and their zero tolerance policy towards racism in English cricket. Right?
Well, this is certainly the image the ECB and its well-oiled press machine are looking to propagate after the sanction was announced. I would link the ECB press release here, but one hasn’t been released on their website at time of writing…
As with most things nowadays, however, the picture is far murkier than any sensationalised tabloid headline may let on. When taking this latest development into consideration in its entirety, it betrays at best another ill-affordable wrong turn on the ECB’s quest for absolution, and at worst, it indicates that Cricket’s governing body isn’t in a position to tackle this challenge head on, and make real progress in this field.
There are many facets to this very revealing case study of the state of the ECB with racism. It is important to be reminded of the gravity of the allegations: if we stay in the abstract, Rather than talk in the abstract, it is all too easy to gloss over both what was said and done as being inconsequential.
Firstly, they are punishing former Chairman John Faragher’s use of racist terminology. He is alleged (more on this word later) to have used the phrase “n****r in the woodpile“ at a board meeting in February 2017.
Also mentioned in the report from the disciplinary hearing, all of which you can read here, are also punishing the inaction of the entire ECCC Executive Board to act upon this, after the this discrimination was known to all of its members as of January 2018.
Admission of Guilt
The first thing to note is that former Chairman John Faragher is yet to admit making the comment, with the ECCC instead “hav[ing] admitted its use“ in front the disciplinary hearing, presumably on his behalf?
This story, therefore, exists in some strange sort of in a paradoxical space that condones discrimination: ECCC have admitted to, and been reprimanded for, an incidence of racism that, according to the perpetrator, didn’t officially happen?
Of course, I am not in possession of all the facts, so cannot comment on what exactly did or did not happen in that boardroom.
But the lack of acknowledgement of, and from, the alleged (there’s that word again) perpetrator is of great significance. There is great significance in the symbolism of holding guilty individuals to account, making an example of them as a deterrent to others who are intent on following suit.
By allowing the question of guilt to hang over this case study, the ECB is missing a huge opportunity hold those accountable for their actions, and validate the position of those for whom this scandal is most troubling, the victims.
Unfortunately, this isn’t new for the ECB either. Michael Vaughan still denies directing racist abuse at Asian players while representing Yorkshire County Cricket Club in 2009, despite Azeem Rafiq, Adil Rashid and Rana Naved ul-Hasan all corroborating this allegation.
It may be true that both Vaughan and Faragher are being falsely accused here. But for as long as they are forced to take the heat for their actions they don’t admit doing, there can be no closure. You can have sympathy for those who question the ECB’s approach to eradicating racism from the sport.
Hit Them Where It Hurts. Or Not.
The nature of the reprimand must also be considered. £50,000 seems a steep, no nonsense sum that will deter future discrimination.
Taking a closer look, the fine actually amounts to £35,000, with £15,000 of the fine suspended for two years as long as ECCC doesn’t “commit any further serious breach of cricketing regulations in the next two years“.
£50,000 £35,000 is not just spare change, granted. But it seems to be perfectly affordable for ECCC.
It’s a moot point as to whether or not it would hurt ECCC financially. A quick look at the club’s accounts for 2019/2020 shows an operating profit of £86,240 on a turnover of just under £5m, even on the back of the economic pressures of the pandemic. This, when considered with the amount it can afford to play its players, indicates that £35,000 is a perfect affordable fine for the club.
Essex County Cricket Club Limited seems to be the overall company that will pay the fine, however, for which I could find no records. Given the number of players on their payroll, all of which can be assumed to be on healthy, professional salaries, and the amount they charge for a seat at a home game in a variety of competitions, it’s reasonable imagine that £35,000 fine is very much within their budget.
I appreciate Cricket needs to be played. Bankrupting every club where there are incidences of racism would eliminate both racism and cricket at the same time. But with the rhetoric as is, where is the motivation to eradicate discrimination? In other terms, for as long as clubs can quite literally afford to allow racial discrimination and subsequent inaction to happen, there will be no urgency to eradicate this once and for all.
Motivations from Above
Much more existential questions remain over what the ECB’s cricket discipline commission are actually punishing with this verdict. In this regard, the verdict isn’t even the issues, it’s the questions around why this discrimination has been deemed punishable that are pertinent: Are they punishing the discrimination, or are they punishing the damage done to their own reputation?
The ECB charged Essex with a breach of ECB Directive 3.3, which reads: "No participant may conduct themself in a manner or do any act or omission at any time which may be prejudicial to the interests of cricket or which may bring the ECB, the game of cricket or any cricketer or group of cricketers into disrepute.“
Of course, this incident is prejudicial to this interests of cricket being a game for everyone, but the question we have to be asking is why the ECB’s reputation is a factor in this equation at all.
As I have outlined in a previous article, the ECB does deserve credit for their response. Quite rightly, too. Society must greatly encourage any action that is taken that moves us in the right direction.
But if the ECB approaches this issues with their reputation as much in mind as the reputation of the game itself, then this will only detract from their commitment to this issue.
Let’s eradicate racism from the game to, well, eradicate racism from the game. Not to protect the ECB’s reputation.
England Cricket Must Change or Be Changed
Let me be absolutely clear on one point. This article is meant to discredit the ECB.
As with any large organisation business, it is absolutely vital they are held accountable for their actions in whichever way possible, not just by their shareholders.
And this is exactly what this article aims to do. To discredit the ECB in the knowledge that attempts at accountability are better than none at all.
When an organisation is responsible for an entire sport within the 5 richest country in the world, and from which you earn multi-billion dollar broadcast contracts, it must be be held to account for its actions.
It may be that a £35,000 slap on the wrist is the best they can muster. If that’s the case, then at least we can react to that, in the hope that changes at the ECB can allow their responses to be more potent in the future.
But for the time being, a suspended fine for a discriminatory comment that *didn’t* happen, the purpose of which was at least in part to protect the reputation of the ECB, presents very real concerns about the ECB’s commitment to eradicating racism from the game.
In a sporting landscape where racism has been deemed intolerable, in conjunction with the immense power and resource available to the ECB, instances like these simply can’t keep happening.
Maybe it’s a systemic flaw. Maybe it’s actually just a missed opportunity.
Whatever you call, it’s now over to the ECB to put their money where the mouth is, and start backing up their anti-discrimination rhetoric with productive and efficacious action.
If not, then at least we’ll know what needs to change in our pursuits of a discrimination free future.