The leadership of the ECB has issued an unreserved apology to “anyone who has ever been excluded from cricket or made to feel like they don’t belong”, and has promised to “use this moment to reset cricket”, in the wake of the hard-hitting findings of the long-awaited Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) report, published on Tuesday.

The 317-page report, titled “Holding Up A Mirror To Cricket”, features evidence from more than 4000 people, including players, coaches, administrators and fans, and drills deep into the sport’s historical structural inequalities – with special emphasis on its post-colonial heritage – to reveal a pattern of deep-rooted discrimination within the game, in particular on grounds of race, class and gender.

The commission was established in March 2021, in response to the murder of George Floyd in police custody in the USA and the Black Lives Matter movement, which prompted numerous claims of institutional racism within English cricket, not least Azeem Rafiq’s revelations about his treatment at Yorkshire, which culminated in his emotional testimony before a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select commitee in November that year.

“For many involved in the sport (including the ECB) the revelations and recommendations of this report will make for uncomfortable reading,” Cindy Butts, the commission’s chair, writes in her foreword to the report. And while she commends the current ECB management for being “brave enough” to open up the sport to such forensic independent scrutiny, she also adds that previous initiatives – not least the ECB’s “Clean Bowl Racism” campaign, launched in 1999 – had done little to address the “sirens of concern”.

A total of 44 recommendations have been outlined in the report, the first of which is the ECB’s public apology for its previous failures – as issued by Richard Thompson, the chair – which is described by the commissioners as an “essential first step … to help to rebuild trust and signal a clear future direction”.

“On behalf of the ECB and wider leadership of the game, I apologise unreservedly to anyone who has ever been excluded from cricket or made to feel like they don’t belong,” Thompson said in a statement. “Cricket should be a game for everyone, and we know that this has not always been the case. Powerful conclusions within the report also highlight that for too long women and Black people were neglected. We are truly sorry for this.

“This report makes clear that historic structures and systems have failed to prevent discrimination, and highlights the pain and exclusion this has caused. I am determined that this wake-up call for cricket in England and Wales should not be wasted. We will use this moment to demonstrate that it is a game for all and we have a duty to put this right for current and future generations.”

In an open letter to Butts, Thompson went on to thank the commission’s five-person secretariat – which also includes the England cricketer-turned-barrister Zafar Ansari – for their “rigour” and for holding up an “unfiltered mirror to all cricket in England and Wales”.

“I am determined that this wake-up call for cricket … must not be wasted,” Thompson added. “We will use this moment to reset cricket. This cannot and will not be a quick fix – we must take the time to put in place meaningful structural reforms. As your report rightly points out, cricket has been here before. This time our response will be different. Our response must be wide-ranging and long-term.”

The next step of the ECB’s response will be a three-month period of consideration, with the ICEC’s 44 recommendations – many of which are multi-faceted and contain sub-recommendations – due to be discussed at both the professional and recreational levels of the game.

This consultation process will be led by Clare Connor, the ECB’s deputy chief executive, with the support of a sub-group of the ECB board including Baroness Zahida Manzoor, Pete Ackerley, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Sir Ron Kalifa, Richard Thompson and Richard Gould.

The ECB acknowledged in its statement that some reforms can be “implemented swiftly”, and that others are achievable under the current framework of cricket but will require “time and investment over the coming months and years”.

Others, however – perhaps most significantly the call for women’s cricketers to achieve equal pay at domestic level by 2029 and at international level by 2030 – will require “fundamental, longer-term changes to cricket in England and Wales, and its funding model”.

The report also recommends the establishment of a new independent regulatory body, in light of persistent criticism of the sport’s existing disciplinary processes – such as those raised at the select committee hearings, and at the subsequent Cricket Discipline Commission hearing into Yorkshire’s dressing-room culture, the sanctions for which are due to be revealed later on Tuesday.

“The ECB’s dual roles of promoter and regulator have the potential to give rise to conflicts of interest,” the report states. “The phrase ‘marking your own homework’ was often used in evidence to us.”

Separately, Marylebone Cricket Club – for centuries the most powerful body in world cricket and still considered, through the grandeur of Lord’s, to be the game’s spiritual home – comes in for significant criticism.

The report recommends that the venue’s hosting of annual fixtures between Eton and Harrow, and Oxford and Cambridge, should be ended after 2023, and replaced with a national finals’ days for state school Under-15 competitions for boys and girls, and a similar event for men’s and women’s university teams. The commission also expressed “alarm” that the England’s women had never yet played a Test at Lord’s, adding: “The ‘home of cricket’ is still a home principally for men.”

Gould, the ECB’s chief executive, reiterated that work was already underway to make English cricket more inclusive, including an increase in funding for the African-Caribbean Engagement Programme for young Black cricketers and increased provision of cricket in state schools, and was grateful for the report’s assessment that “green shoots of progress” are already visible. However, he also acknowledged that the governing body “needs to go further and faster in our efforts”.

“Making cricket more inclusive and reflective of the communities it serves is my number one priority,” Gould said. “This cannot and will not be a quick fix. We are committed to taking the time to work with everyone in the sport, and especially with leaders of cricket’s clubs and institutions, to put in place reforms that are wide-ranging, long-term and meaningful. We should view this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore trust in the game we love.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket


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