Wanted: Someone to defend English cricket. The national governing body, the ECB, is cowering in its bunker, losing PR battles over racism and the Ashes debacle. It just won’t be enough.
As difficult as the circumstances are, sport needs visible leadership with a strong voice, ready to stand up for what is good while recognizing the need for change.
Azeem Rafiq rightly continues to be well received by the media and politicians. With each profile item, the position of the governing body of the sport, and professional gaming in general, weakens. If in doubt, check out Rafiq’s interview in The Guardian last weekend.
The ECB has briefed MPs on progress on its 12-point plan to tackle racism, but its sotto voce approach risks cratering the rest of its work – not helped either by the Middlesex chairman’s dismal performance in front of those same politicians this week.
Context is everything, and the ECB seems unwilling to risk the bricks and mortar that will come its way if it tries to provide it. But provide it, otherwise fans, families and sponsors will walk away from English cricket for lack of joy when they contemplate the sport and what it could offer them.
The rubble of Ashes from this winter is a useless base on which to try to rebuild interest and excitement. Here too, however, the ECB is wrong. Read reports from reporters who were Down Under and you can see the briefing and counter-briefing that took place.
Managing Director Tom Harrison was in Australia for weeks we are told – show his commitment! – but sources say he stayed at a higher class hotel than the team – who does he think he is?
What a depressing, candied farrago, topped off with foam in the players’ drinking session at the end of the tour filmed by a cigar trainer – a story allowed to bloat for mere lack of grip.
ECB President Ian Watmore resigned last October under pressure from the counties. Three months later, the governing body has yet to announce his replacement.
What England cricket fans want and need to see is leadership with a clear plan to remedy the dysfunctional Test team; deliver a summer calendar whose logic is clear (and not just driven by money); supporting progressive and sustainable counties; and nurture a vibrant base game that the culture can be proud of as a nation. And the courage and conviction to shout it all out loud.
Head to the Bush Theater in west London last weekend for the final evening of Fair Play, an invigorating production in which the two young actors presented a more balanced take on the debate surrounding DSD athletes (Differences in Sexual Development, often called intersex) than any I’ve seen in the media since Caster Semenya’s controversial arrival on the world stage in 2009.
Sport in the theater usually struggles to recreate both the athleticism and the technical aspects of reality. No such problems here. Playwright Ella Road didn’t misstep my athletically trained eye, and actors Charlotte Beaumont and Nick King brought an energy to exhaust the watching audience.
More importantly, both sides of the equity debate received equal airplay, which served to emphasize that there is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to DSD female athletes with levels elevated testosterone. Where do the benefits – from physical to financial to educational – start and end in sports? Where does the genre begin and where does it end?
I have always been very sympathetic towards Semenya’s case, in part because I witnessed first hand the miserable treatment of a vulnerable young woman by the IAAF (now World Athletics) and media around the world at day after his gold medal in the 800m at the Berlin World Cup. Championships – not to mention the insensitivity of some rival coaches and athletes. Just to say, I’m very much in the minority in athletics circles on this one.
The game is timely. Just last week, a group of medical experts criticized the International Olympic Committee’s new framework dealing with gender identity equity. The framework contains guidelines that effectively challenge the use of testosterone levels to determine a person’s right to compete in women’s events.
Testosterone was the criterion used to exclude Semenya and other DSD athletes from athletics, forcing them to use suppressants to lower their levels if they wanted to run certain distances. The IOC guidelines may well open the door to their return.
The language of this dispute remains robust, unhealthy. And legalistic. If a fair play video exists, it should be watched to help temper the debate. If not, perhaps World Athletics and the IOC could commission one from the Bush Theater before the cast and creatives set about their next projects.
Seine and sensitivity
I came across a rather obscure study this week ranking countries around the world by their overall success in elite sports, from the US at No. 1 to the Marshall Islands at No. 206. Britain moved up one place to second in 2021, swapping positions with France.
If you want to satisfy your inner Statto, you can check out the results and methodology here.
You can be sure that the French public will not be watching this table during the Paris Olympics in two and a half years. Instead, they will be whipped into an obsession with the immediate medal table – and here France has a mountain to climb.
Instead of the traditional jump to the Games before a home edition, the French Olympic team slipped from seventh to eighth place in Tokyo, winning just 33 medals compared to 42 at Rio 2016. money in each of the flagship sports of athletics. and swimming and only two bronze medals in cycling, a national obsession.
It will take more than the glamor of an opening ceremony along the Seine for the Paris 2024 Games to be considered a triumph in France, and time is desperately running out.
Ed Warner is chairman of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes to sportinc.substack.com.