BAME coaching drive is key to bring change
Stories such as Rafiq’s will keep on surfacing if the game fails to improve its diversity in leadership roles
Azeem Rafiq could have been talking about any number of counties when he said the following in his interview with ESPN Cricinfo: “Look at a squad photograph. Look at the coaches. How many non-white faces do you see?”
Only seven out of 118 coaches in the professional game come from a BAME background and until that changes there will be more stories like Rafiq’s to emerge over the next few years.
Too many black cricketers in particular have told this newspaper they felt their careers were blocked because of a lack of understanding about the challenges their community faced from age-group coaches who were invariably white and middle class.
“They never understand our culture. We were always on the outside so we have to work so hard to get an opportunity, which meant
I was not risking it by drinking or partying. I think that went against me… because I was not seen as part of the team I was getting penalised,” said Dave Burton, who tried his luck at seven counties before drifting out of the game.
Figures compiled by Leeds Beckett University revealed the lack of representation of British Asians in professional cricket, where only 5.8 per cent of male players were British Asian, only seven out of 106 female players and just 4.2 per cent of managers or coaches in the county game are from a minority background.
Until cricketers from minority backgrounds feel they can communicate with managers and coaches who share similar life experiences, misunderstandings and suspicion will keep growing.
The England and Wales Cricket Board has set up a bursary to help with costs and John Neal, head of the ECB’s coach development team, has ended the process of only county boards putting forward candidates for high-level coaching qualifications, preventing a closed-shop environment. More Asian candidates than ever before are going into level-three coaching courses but there is a long way to go in the professional game. “We are on the right track on this,” said Gulfraz Riaz, head of the Asian Cricket Council.
The comments from Rafiq are especially damaging, given his sister Amna works for the club as a community development manager, and worked at Leicestershire for four years to boost participation among Asian females. She started a Bolly Cric-Hit programme of fitness moves to Bollywood music followed by 45 minutes of softball cricket. She had to persuade her family to allow her to follow Azeem in playing for Barnsley Cricket Club as a girl, and her potential as a role model led to Yorkshire offering her a job this year.
She reacted to her brother’s comments by tweeting a broken heart and saying: “A great opportunity to drive change! Regardless of how uncomfortable/ ugly these convos may be! It is crucial now more than ever to have these open/honest conversations to raise awareness, educate and ultimately END a repeat of this.” That feels a long way off right now.