Clare Connor is the wrong person to lead cricket’s culture review – there is a clear conflict of interest

Over the last year racism in cricket, systemic and normalised, has been uncomfortable, and publicly, exposed. Big and quick changes have already occurred. Further public funding for the game may soon become dependent on seeing enduring change. Things are being put in motion.

Yet one of the most revealing elements of Azeem Rafiq’s testimony in front of the DCMS committee last year was when he was asked whether cricket also had a misogyny problem, and whether he experienced any such language in professional men’s changing rooms. “I don’t recall it like I do the experiences I have had,” said Rafiq, tellingly. “But it would be wrong of me to sit here and say it does not happen. Of course it does.”

Getting more women involved in the decision-making positions as cricket seeks to rebuild is, clearly, imperative. Women, plural, from all different backgrounds and ethnicities and not one woman doing, well, everything. Which is what appears to be the case with the announcement that Clare Connor, the ECB’s Managing Director of Women’s Cricket, is to lead a review into the dressing room culture of the men and women’s game as part of the ECB’s plans to tackle discrimination.

Firstly, there is the obvious conflict of interest, and impossibility of being truly impartial, of the person leading the review into professional cricketers’ conduct also being the person in charge of hiring them. Secondly, this is also a further demonstration of cricket’s continuing issue of ‘one-and-done’. Connor may be the best administrator in the world, and without doubt she has transformed the women’s game, but she also concurrently holds the ECB Managing Director role as well as being MCC President and Chair of the ICC Women’s Committee.

It is impossible that Connor will have the time to do any of these important roles, alongside the review, properly. Furthermore, by continuing to pick one woman to hold so many executive positions, the whole object of hiring more women – to have more voices who are representative of our population, and our cricketers – is made redundant. Connor, albeit a woman, is a privileged, white one, who has spent a lifetime in a white women’s game. like me. Neither of us can represent all women, let alone be in a position to review the impact of racism. And yet this is what Connor is being asked to do.

It’s an impossible task. However impressive Connor as an individual might be, by bestowing so many hats on her alone we are firmly suggesting that no other woman is qualified to hold those roles instead. If we are that short on women that we can only have one at the table then the problems are even deeper than we thought.

And maybe they are. Watching Mike O’Farrell, the chair of Middlesex County Cricket Club, speaking to another hearing of the select committee on Tuesday about how cricket plans to tackle racism, you might fear so. At the very least it confirmed the other thing that has become clear over the last year, that change – and we’re talking real, lasting change, knitted into the fabric of cricketing culture in this country, including behind closed changing room doors – takes time.

O’Farrell, who is the chair of a club whose key executive and management roles have never been held by anyone other than a white man, reaffirmed damaging and outdated attitudes towards ethnic minorities. Football and rugby, according to O’Farrell, are “much more attractive [than cricket] to the Afro-Caribbean community” while education-focused South Asian’s did not want to “commit the time” to cricket.

O’Farrell’s comments reflect lazy and entrenched attitudes which exist throughout the highest levels of county cricket’s administration – towards ethnic minorities, towards women, towards sexual orientation and really, towards anything other than the immediate fortunes of the men’s first eleven representing any particular county. There is not a single female chair of a first-class County. There has only ever been one in the history of the 18 counties; she resigned last year.

Middlesex’s clarifying statement, if we can call it that, issued shortly afterwards and espousing its diversity credentials, ignored that any women, from any background, might play cricket at the club or should aspire to, with references exclusively to the ethnic diversity of its men’s Academy and first XI.

Discrimination is not one-dimensional. Diversity isn’t about ticking a box, it’s about ensuring that different voices, with different perspectives, at the highest levels of cricket’s administration, are heard. So that, for example, ill-advised comments from a chairman of a county cricket club are challenged long before he’s called onto the public stand.

This ties in with what we have heard from white men, including Joe Root, about their recollections of racism in professional cricket; if you are not of the demographic being discriminated against, it will not have registered in the same way. You might not even be able to recall it. These are not bad individuals, but unaffected ones. And the affected aren’t currently represented.

O’Farrell may be a perfectly decent, pleasant individual. But if everyone running professional cricket looks like, speaks like and has experiences like O’Farrell’s, then that change we’re seeking, well it’s not going to be coming anytime soon.


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