Richard Gould, the ECB’s chief executive, believes English cricket is “on a journey to try and change history”, but conceded that funding will be an ongoing issue, following the publication of the governing body’s response to this summer’s damning report by the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC), which found the sport to be institutionally discriminatory on the grounds of race, class and gender.
The ICEC report, “Holding Up A Mirror To Cricket”, was published on the eve of the Lord’s Test in June, having been commissioned in the midst of the racism crisis that engulfed English cricket following Azeem Rafiq’s revelations at Yorkshire.
The report listed 44 recommendations in the course of its 317 pages, including a recommendation for equal pay across the men’s and women’s games, and an overhaul of school cricket and talent pathways to “make it more meritocratic, inclusive, accountable, transparent and consistent”.
Monday’s 34-page response from the ECB, “Making Cricket A More Inclusive Sport”, comes in the wake of an initial three-month period of consideration, during which time a consultation process was instigated 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 Gould.
While the ECB believes it is on course to fulfil “94%” of the ICEC’s recommendations, it conceded that “further analysis” will be required for the remaining proposals, most specifically the recommendations surrounding the gender pay gap, in which the ICEC called for equal pay at domestic level by 2029 and international level (including ECB contracts) by 2030.
Although the board announced earlier this month that men’s and women’s international players would be granted equal match fees, starting from England Women’s recently concluded series against Sri Lanka, Gould suggested that the ICEC’s recommended timeframe was unrealistic given the existing pressures on the board’s finances, particularly in light of the growing threat to the men’s game from the T20 franchise market.
“We have two priorities at the moment in terms of finances for the game,” Gould said. “One is ICEC, to ensure we can deliver on those [recommendations] and the wider discussion on EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion]. The other is to make sure that we don’t lose all of our best players to a variety of different franchise tournaments around the world.”
Despite a significant uptick in interest in women’s cricket this summer, with more than 110,000 ticket sales across a compelling drawn Ashes campaign, Gould said that the “definable income” into the women’s game, in the region of £11 million, still fell some £20 million short of expenditure.
Though he pledged that the ECB would continue to “invest ahead of revenues”, with £25 million to be injected annually in a bid to drive up the commercial value of the women’s game, the board’s existing broadcast deal with Sky Sports and the BBC is locked in until 2028.
Despite huge interest in the women’s Ashes, the gender pay gap could prove hard to close in the immediate future•Getty Images
As Gould put it, the ECB would “have a good go” at meeting the ICEC’s target for 2029, but he added that it was “something we cannot necessarily do within those timescales”, particularly if, as reported, the board is looking to address the threat of the T20 franchise circuit by offering multi-million pound three-year contracts for its elite male cricketers.
“There is a pot of money that we need to find, but we have to find that, because there’s been underinvestment in women’s team sport for decades,” Gould added. “That’s one of the things that this report has highlighted, and we’re determined to act on it.”
Similar pressures exist at age-group level, with the sheer cost of coaching and equipment leading to the sport being dominated by the private-school sector. Existing initiatives such as Chance To Shine, MCC Foundation and the African Caribbean Engagement (ACE) Programme have been granted £2 million in extra funding following their successes in increasing participation within state schools and Black and Asian communities, but the ECB confirmed that specific EDI training at county and age-group level would be required to ensure that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are able to break into the professional game.
A new regulatory body will also come into being, following the ICEC’s criticisms of the ECB’s existing disciplinary processes. Although the chair of the new Cricket Discipline Panel will be appointed by the ECB, their roles will be “ring-fenced” to ensure a heightened degree of independence. Issues of misconduct and safeguarding will come under this body’s remit.
Addressing the ECB’s response, Thompson, the chair, reiterated the unreserved apology he had offered on the day of the initial ICEC findings in June, and reaffirmed the board’s “absolute commitment” that cricket will “strive to become the most inclusive sport in England and Wales”.
“There is no doubt that the ICEC highlighted to great effect the impact of discrimination on individuals and the extent of the systemic challenges to be addressed. Its in-depth analysis also presented an opportunity to put in place a comprehensive plan of action that will deliver meaningful change and rebuild trust among the communities we serve.
“This response represents a set of actions that will accelerate and intensify our work to make cricket a game for everyone, actions that cricket can deliver and fund within an achievable timeframe. It builds on a huge amount of work which is already under way right across the network.
“Cricket hasn’t got it right in the past, but this is an opportunity to move forwards together. I’d urge everyone to now come together, to put their energy and effort into delivering these actions, and to playing their part in ensuring cricket becomes England and Wales’s most inclusive team sport.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket