Chairman's blog - 26 June
Posted on 26th June 2020 at 13:47
There are two main issues in my mind as I write this blog. Firstly, a lot of people, some far more important and influential than I, are asking why recreational cricket is not yet being played; I'd like to share my thoughts on the position as I understand it – but it is not an official statement of either the ECB or the YSPL. Secondly, I would like to talk about Black Lives Matter and anti-racism. The two things are intrinsically linked in my opinion. If we can get back to playing cricket and take action to demonstrate that racism has no place in our sport, then we can play our part in helping to eradicate it in our communities.
On 'return to cricket', the ECB have a five stage plan, in which we are still at stage three, ‘prepare’. Stage four is ‘adapted cricket’, which allows for two-metre social distancing, facilities being closed, short formats, less than eleven players, etc; and stage five is ‘full play’ – albeit complying with any Covid-19 guidelines agreed with government.
We will not move to stage four or five without government approval. This week, the ECB were confident that their plans to move to the next stage would be approved, and that a positive announcement would be made. They were dismayed to hear the Prime Minister’s statement on Tuesday that cricket could not take place because the ball is a ‘vector of disease’. ECB has taken quite a lot of stick over the situation. I do not think this is entirely fair – they desperately want to get recreational cricket played again, and genuinely believed that they had a very good case.
The ECB expert was confident that the ball did not present an insurmountable obstacle, and subsequently other scientists have agreed with him – the government’s scientific opinion was clearly to the contrary. Scientists disagree – that is the nature of the beast. It is what has bedevilled the entire response to the Covid-19 crisis from the start. For as many ‘scientific experts’ that take one point of view, there will be as many who take the opposite.
What will happen now? The ECB and their experts are continuing a dialogue with government officials. They remain confident that their argument will prevail, and that we will soon get the green light for cricket to restart. I hope they are right. I hope furthermore that we will get approval to play a ‘proper game’, now that the two-metre social distancing rule has been relaxed. I am sure that is what most players want, certainly at our level.
If this happens, players will in all probability need to come to the game in playing or training gear, because changing rooms will be closed; they may well need to bring their own tea with them; they will have to regularly sanitise their hands and the ball; and they will have to observe the one-metre social distancing. Clubs will need to complete a Covid-19 risk assessment, and observe its’ provisions. Some players and clubs may not want to play under these circumstances, and that must and will be respected.
We in the YSPL will hopefully await a favourable announcement – I have made my feelings known that this needs to be within the next couple of weeks if we are to meet our clubs wishes that they have two weeks’ notice of play, and that any competitive cricket must start by the beginning of August. If we get a date for play, we will arrange a video-conference for all our clubs, at which we will put proposals for 40-over and 20-over competitions, on group bases, to maximise use of the time available. We will ensure that clubs are aware of all necessary guidance, we will try to respond to and allay any concerns they have, and we will respect the decisions they make about participation. And, of course, we will endeavour to keep everyone informed along the way.
For now, all we can do is wait, and hope that the ECB, and the high-profile figures who have joined the fight, are successful in their endeavours.
The second issue, Black Lives Matter, has dominated the news over the last couple of weeks. The statement itself should be unnecessary, and it surprises me that in 2020 we are having protests and conversations about intolerance and racial prejudice. But what happened in America was disgraceful, and it is even more so that it was not an isolated incident. We can never say, ‘it would not happen here’, but I think that as a result of the BLM movement, it is even less likely to do so. So in that sense, the movement will, I think, be seen to have had a positive impact.
But for many of us, particularly in sport, the movement has also highlighted that the issue of discrimination in our society has never really gone away. In the mid-1990s I worked on what we called ‘ethnic minority issues’ in a large government department. I thought that the work we all did then, led by the then Commission for Racial Equality, had largely eradicated the problem. The issue then was quite clear – the need to treat everyone the same, regardless of race or colour. I have always believed that there are good people and bad people from all backgrounds, and that you should treat everyone as you find them. You can’t like everyone, and inevitably there are a small number you take an instant dislike to – but that is nothing to do with colour of the skin, and in terms of race, I am ‘colour-blind’ (as I am in the usual use of the term!). What I do find rather puzzling though, if some recently-reported comments are representative of more widely-held views, is that equality of treatment is not enough any more. I think that needs more dialogue.
One specific issue for us in sport is that the governing bodies of most UK sports include negligible representation of BAME communities. Why that is, I do not know – others are better qualified than me to comment. But looking at my own responsibility, our league has a committee of 14 people, all of whom are white, and 13 are male. Is that an issue that we should be looking to address – and if so, how?
What I look for in our committee is a balance of ‘doers’ – administrators, if you like – and ‘thinkers’ – people who know Premier League cricket, who have been there and done it, and who know what they are talking about. It is very gratifying when people complement me on how the league is run – but it is only so because, from the start, we have had the likes of Mark Beardshall and Andy Harrison to give us the benefit of their experience, knowledge and ideas, which enables such as Steve Ward and I to do our jobs more effectively. I also look to have representation from as many different clubs as possible.
Another factor, an increasing difficulty for us, is that committee work has limited appeal to younger generations. To some ‘people of a certain age’ being on a committee had a certain status, and was an extension of a social life. That is much less the case for younger people today, and being on a league cricket committee will not figure highly on their ‘must do’ lists. What I am saying is that knowledge and experience, and the willingness to spend time imparting that; or proven ability as an administrator, are the key things you look for in persuading people to voluntarily contribute their time and experience to us. There are not that many people in our league with those skills, experience and willingness to become involved. I am also uncomfortable about approaching someone from a BAME background, however suitable, in the knowledge that if I was asked, ‘would you be asking me if I was not black?’, the answer I would give would only be a partial truth.
In any case, I am not sure that it is representation on management boards and committees that is the real issue – in my experience, nearly all cricket league committees run their leagues for the benefit of all the players who are in them. What I think is more important is that where there is real and demonstrable discrimination in any walk of life that action must be taken. I am certainly determined that we will take firm action in the case of any reported instance of racist language or actions in our league.
I leave the last word on this subject to a cricket-loving friend of mine from an Asian background. He wrote a blog on the subject last week, which he concluded with this paragraph:
‘So what can be done? It feels to me that, no matter how hard we try, for many people their core beliefs on race are too ingrained as they have lived for too long with a distorted view of the world. Trying to change these beliefs is exhausting and painful for those who try. But what we can at least do is ensure that people self-censor what they say and how they behave in the company of people of colour. We can stop laughing off the "jokes" and call out discrimination for what it truly is when we encounter it; to ensure people of colour don't constantly internalise the trauma in their day to day and working lives. And with children - parents of all colour and creed need to talk to them more about race and the differences in society. These aren't easy conversations, but if every single one of us is having those conversations together, then the burden doesn't just fall disproportionately on our Black and other ethnic minority colleagues. Perhaps when all of us are working harder, when we're all equally comfortable being uncomfortable, then we can go a long way to tackling intolerant attitudes.’
Finally, this week started with Fathers’ Day. My son, Gavin, bought me a ‘nine-pinter’ of my favourite real ale, Hambleton Stallion – what better Fathers’ Day present than that? I must have done something right somewhere! Equally appreciated was the present from my three-year old grand-daughter – a hand-painted stone paperweight. Both presents made me smile, which is what it should be all about really.
Till next time
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