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Middlesex head’s cricket comments show racism is ‘endemic’ in sport, say players

Mike O’Farrell suggested that Black and Asian communities lack interest in cricket, sparking outrage from current and former players.

The chairman of Middlesex County Cricket Club, Mike O’Farrell, has come under fire for comments made to MPs investigating institutional racism in the sport. 

Speaking before MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) select committee on January 25, O’Farrell made comments suggesting that Black and Asian communities are not interested in cricket.

“The other thing in the diversity bit is that the football and rugby world becomes much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community,” O’Farrell said.

He then added that the “South Asian community… do not want necessarily to commit the same time that is necessary to go to the next step because they prefer — not always saying they do it — but they sometimes prefer to go into other educational fields, and then cricket becomes secondary, and part of that is because it is a rather more time-consuming sport than some others.” 

The top 10 cricket countries in the world, ranked by the ICC, include India, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Australia and New Zealand are ranked first and second, England is fourth. O’Farrell has since apologised for his comments.

Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq was one of the first to condemn O’Farrell’s comments, saying they showed “just what an endemic problem” cricket has – referring implicitly to racism as the problem.

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Rafiq was making reference to his own experience with racism in cricket, having been the victim of “constant” racial harassment during his two spells playing at Yorkshire. As a teen at a local club, Rafiq said he was held down by another player and had red wine poured down his throat, a drink which is forbidden under his religion.

He told a DCSM select committee in November that English cricket was “institutionally racist”.

Former English cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent also criticised O’Farrell’s comments, writing on Twitter: 

“These outdated views in the game are exactly why we are in this position. Unfortunately the decision makers hold onto these myths…Seriously, the game deserves better.”

O’Farrell’s comments echoed those made by former FA chairman Greg Clarke, who resigned in 2020 after telling the same DCMS select committee that South Asian people prefer careers in IT over those in sport.

The Middlesex head has since apologised for his comments, saying he was “devastated” that the lack of context in his answer led to the “conclusions some have made”.

“I was aiming to make the point that as a game, cricket has failed a generation of young cricketers, in systematically failing to provide them with the same opportunities that other sports and sectors so successfully provide,” he said.

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“Cricket has to take responsibility for these failings. We at Middlesex are no different. We have an academy side that contains in excess of 60 per cent British-born Asian and black young cricketers, and we must take responsibility for ensuring that the route into the professional game is as accessible and appealing as other sports or opportunities.”

The England and Wales Cricket Board has pledged to tackle racism in the game via a 12-point-plan, with “a new, independently operated game-wide whistleblowing system with standardised procedures for investigating and responding to complaints” to be established by the end of February 2022. 

Cricket is not the only sport to face accusations of institutional racism in recent months, with a wave of racist comments posted online in the wake of the Euros 2020 tournament.

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were targeted with racist abuse online after they missed penalties in the shoot-out at the Euro 2020 final in June 2021.

The comments were met with condemnations by the Football Association, England manager Gareth Southgate and the prime minister.

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