Determined to lead change – ECB chief ‘very motivated’ to tackle racism crisis

Tom Harrison claimed he had been given a mandate to lead cricket out of its racism crisis, following an emergency summit of the game’s leading decision-makers.

Harrison entered Friday’s ‘all-game’ meeting at the Kia Oval facing rising scrutiny over his position as chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board but emerged insisting he had the renewed support to front a programme of measures that will be announced next week.

There has been frustration over the ECB’s glacial, hands-off approach to Azeem Rafiq’s claims of institutional racism during his time at Yorkshire and Harrison’s unimpressive appearance in front of a parliamentary select committee this week led to further disquiet.

Against the backdrop of reports that he may be called to resign, Harrison met with representatives of the 18 first-class counties, as well as delegations from the Professional Cricketers’ Association, MCC, national counties and recreational game and left with his leadership intact.

“I received the backing of the game today, absolutely,” he told Sky News as he left the stadium.

“I’m determined to lead this change through cricket. I feel passionately about this issue. It’s something I feel to my core. I’ve been trying to drive an inclusive and diverse sport from the moment I arrived as chief executive in 2015. I feel very motivated and very supported to make sure that change happens in the game.

“This is just the first step. I am not suggesting this is the silver bullet response or answer, it is an urgent and immediate response to the issues we have face.”

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, left
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, left, has no plans to step down (Victoria Jones/PA)

Harrison was flanked by Surrey’s influential chair Richard Thompson, who offered his backing.

Asked if he felt Harrison was still the right man to pursue a new chapter for the sport, he said: “Yes I do. Cricket needs leadership at the moment, it doesn’t need a vacuum.

“We need to win the trust back of those mums that might be thinking about whether cricket is the right sport for their children, and the dads. Trust is everything now and it starts today. From here I think the process will move very quickly so we can start to show our actions do speak louder than our words.”

Harrison was eager to trumpet the consensus that had been reached between attendees, frequently heralding the “tangible” change was coming but that message was diluted by an almost complete lack of detail in the accompanying statement.

A 12-point plan has been promised next week, but for now there was precious little fresh detail.

Harrison did reveal a couple of details, including the fact that an independent regulator – as floated by Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston in parliament this week – was on the table.

“We had a discussion about that. I think these are questions which need to be addressed and addressed fully,” he said.

He also conceded that the protocols which saw Yorkshire left to handle the investigation into Rafiq’s allegations for well over a year without ECB oversight may need to be reviewed.

He added: “What we need to do is make sure we’re listening to victims of racism. I think in future it’s more than likely the ECB would step in immediately to take steps to understand and investigate fully.”

A joint statement was issued at the completion of the meeting, credited to the combined attendees of the meeting, but it was heavy on rhetoric and light on substance.

“Today, as a game, we discussed a series of tangible commitments to make cricket a sport where everyone feels safe, and everyone feels included,” it read.

“We will now finalise the detail and publish these actions next week. Our game must win back your trust. Azeem Rafiq has shone a light on our game that has shocked, shamed and saddened us all. Racism and discrimination is a blight on our game.

“To Azeem and all those who have experienced any form of discrimination, we are truly sorry. Our sport did not welcome you, our game did not accept you as we should have done. We apologise unreservedly for your suffering.

“We stand together against discrimination in all its forms, and are united as a sport to act. We will continue to listen, and make swift, positive changes to the culture of the game. We will embrace and celebrate differences everywhere, knowing that with diversity, we are stronger.”

Earlier Rafiq spoke to the Jewish News, reiterating his earlier apologies and stressing that the emergence of anti-Semitic messages he posted as a teenager in 2011 must not be used to derail the wider campaign.

“I think people discredit me. I think it could affect me but I don’t think it should affect the cause,” he said.

“If anything, I think it keeps the conversation right at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I just
think we could all unite together, sit on one table and actually fight for the cause that I’m fighting for. The cause is bigger.”

:: Former England batter Alex Hales has apologised for “reckless and foolish behaviour” in painting his face black to attend a fancy dress party in 2009. The ECB is investigating.