England captain Ben Stokes said Tuesday he is “deeply sorry” to learn of the scale of discrimination in the sport after a damning report revealed “widespread” racism, sexism and classism in the game.
His comments followed the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC), set up by the England and Wales Cricket Board, publishing its much-anticipated report, Holding Up a Mirror to Cricket.
The commission makes 44 recommendations, including that the board makes an “unqualified public apology” for its failings.
The ICEC was established in 2021 in the wake of a racism scandal centred around the treatment of Pakistan-born bowler Azeem Rafiq at English county cricket club Yorkshire.
Of the more than 4,000 individuals interviewed for the ICEC report, 50 percent described experiencing discrimination in the previous five years, with the figures substantially higher for people from ethnically diverse communities.
Women are treated as “subordinate” to men at all levels of cricket, the report found, adding that they receive an “embarrassingly small amount” of pay compared to their male counterparts.
It recommends that match fees for the men’s and women’s teams be “equalised with immediate effect”.
The ICEC report also states that not enough has been done to address class barriers in the game, with fee-paying private schools dominating the talent pathway.
“Our findings are unequivocal,” said ICEC chair Cindy Butts. “Racism, class-based discrimination, elitism and sexism are widespread and deep-rooted.
“The game must face up to the fact that it’s not banter or just a few bad apples. Discrimination is both overt and baked into the structures and processes within cricket.”
England men’s Test captain Ben Stokes and women’s skipper Heather Knight gave evidence, along with racism whistleblower Rafiq.
Stokes reacted to the publication of the report on the eve of the second Ashes Test against Australia, which starts at Lord’s on Wednesday.
“To the people involved in the game who have been made to feel unwelcome or unaccepted in the past, I am deeply sorry to hear of your experiences,” he said.
“Cricket is a game that needs to celebrate diversity on all fronts because without diversity this game would not be where it is at today.”
He added: “Everyone has a different story to tell. I am Ben Stokes, born in New Zealand, a state-educated pupil who dropped out of school at 16 with one GCSE (qualification) in PE. I need help with the spelling and grammar in this speech and I am currently sitting here as the England men’s Test captain.”
The report praised the ECB for being brave enough to open itself up to “uncomfortable independent scrutiny”.
ECB chairman Richard Thompson, who took up his post last year, said the organisation would “use this moment to reset cricket”.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Rafiq welcomed the findings and acknowledged the “extraordinary work” that had gone into the inquiry.
“There is no doubt now that the game we all love has suffered from institutionalised discrimination, including racism,” he said.
“This report is an opportunity to fully reflect on what has happened and for the sport’s governing structures to work out a way forward.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said the report “makes for difficult reading”.
“The prime minister believes that sport must be open to everyone,” he said. “There is no place for racism, discrimination, bullying or harassment in sport nor indeed in wider society.”
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