England captain Ben Stokes ‘deeply sorry’ for victims of cricket discrimination

England captain Ben Stokes ‘deeply sorry’ for victims of cricket discrimination

England men’s captain Ben Stokes has issued an apology to those who have experienced discrimination in cricket and pledged to help deliver a level playing field regardless of “upbringing, race or gender”.

The long-awaited Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket published its findings on Tuesday, delivering a damning report that diagnosed entrenched racism, sexism and class barriers within a sport it branded “elitist and exclusionary”.

The depth of the problems are laid bare over more than 300 pages in a paper which casts a grim shadow over preparations for the second Ashes Test at Lord’s – a venue known as the home of cricket but one that is also symbolic of the game’s relationship with privilege.

Stokes in many ways represents the opposite of that. Born on the other side of the world and educated in a Cumbrian comprehensive school, his ascent to one of the most prestigious sporting offices in the country constitutes a breaking of the traditional ‘future England captain’ mould, a point he was clear to emphasise as he read a heartfelt and personally prepared statement.

But he started with a message to those whose stories had informed the ICEC report.

“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. As a sport, we need to learn from past mistakes and do all we can to make people feel safe and be themselves at every level.

“I have been an England player since 2011 and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of some incredibly diverse teams and love how everyone has a different story to tell. We must go further and be more inclusive and diverse because the game I love – and millions worldwide love – should be enjoyed without fear of discrimination or judgement whether that be due to your upbringing, race or gender.

“I am Ben Stokes; born in New Zealand, a state-educated pupil who dropped out of school at 16 with one GCSE in PE. I needed help with the spelling and grammar in this speech and I am currently sitting here as the England men’s Test captain. It is clear there is so much more the game has to do and as players we really want to be a part of that to ensure this is truly a sport for everyone.”

One of Stokes’ predecessors as England skipper, Sir Andrew Strauss, spoke of an “awakening” for the sport and urged those in power to offer more than “lip service” in response.

Strauss has spent much of his career in influential positions at the England and Wales Cricket Board, acting as both director of men’s cricket and strategic adviser to the board following retirement, but left the organisation earlier this year.

“This is a real time of awakening for the game of cricket,” he said at an event for the Ruth Strauss Foundation.

“You have to move forward as a sport. The clear takeaway is the game has to do better, has to move forward and not be defensive.

Sir Andrew Strauss
Sir Andrew Strauss has called on cricket’s leaders to ensure the sport is inclusive for all (Adam Davy/PA)

“We have to make sure anyone who wants to play cricket feels included, welcomed and appreciated. If we get to that stage the game of cricket will be in a much healthier place.

“What the report is obviously showing is we haven’t done well enough traditionally. It’s an important moment for the game to embrace this, learn the lesson, don’t pay lip service to it and make sure what we see at the back end is actually change.”

The ECB issued an unreserved apology for the failings highlighted in the report and to the victims of discrimination in cricket, and will work over the next three months on a package of reforms based on the 44 recommendations within the report.

Richard Gould, the ECB chief executive, said: “It is an existential issue for the sport. This is a report that the ECB specifically asked for two-and-a-half years ago, and deliberately did not set narrow parameters.

“This report is a seminal moment for us. It helps us to fully understand the scope of the issues within the game, it allows us to understand the apologies that we quite rightly make to those people that suffered discrimination. We are determined to be able to act on this report and deliver on its intent in the coming months.”

The report attracted political attention too. The official spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – an avowed cricket fan, who welcomed members of England’s T20 World Cup-winning squad to Downing Street earlier this year – said: “The report today makes for difficult reading and the Prime Minister believes that sport must be open to everyone.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has had his say on the ICEC report.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has had his say on the ICEC report (Henry Nicholls/PA)

“There is no place for racism, discrimination, bullying or harassment in sport nor indeed in wider society. We welcome the ECB’s commitment to bring forward a plan to tackle the issues the report raised and I understand ministers are speaking to the ECB to discuss the findings further. We will review the findings of the report in detail to establish what lessons can be learned.”

The Professional Cricketers’ Association is committed to playing its part as the sport confronts its next steps. Chief executive Rob Lynch said: “Many of our members have been incredibly brave over recent years, detailing their experiences of discrimination within professional cricket environments. We thank them for openly sharing these often-painful accounts.

“The PCA sees this as an opportunity for our members and the organisation to lead the much-needed changes to create a truly inclusive and fair environment for the current and future generations to thrive. We welcome the recommendations on overhauling women players’ pay and working conditions. We have been lobbying the ECB to close the gap across domestic and international women’s cricket and the commissioners’ recommendations will further assist this goal.”