Former International’s take on Cricket Scotland’s findings


In the wake of an independent report that found Cricket Scotland to be institutionally racist, former Scottish international Simon Smith mulls over his thoughts in the hope of moving the conversation forward constructively.

As part of Emerging Cricket’s coverage of the events, Jake Perry has also sat down with Majid Haq for a piece coming soon.

Changing The Boundaries, the report published in July following the independent investigation by Plan4Sport into racism in Scottish cricket, made for a chastening read. Digesting and reflecting on it has been challenging.

I have never considered myself racist, as I don’t racially abuse people or judge people based on their ethnicity. However the findings of the report are clear – Cricket Scotland has been found to be institutionally racist, and having been involved with the organisation for most of my adolescent and adult life as a player, coach and administrator, and until 2020 on its leadership team as High Performance Manager, I am truly sorry to all those affected.

I admire the bravery of the people who came forward to share their experiences. Of the many complainants spoken with during the investigation, the most high-profile was former Scotland men’s team player Majid Haq, and having played and worked with Majid for so many years, his case has been a source of significant learning for me during this period of reflection.

Majid was not treated less favourably than any of his peers with regard to selection. He was given more support than any other player, support which undoubtedly helped him to achieve his then record number of caps and wickets. A career spanning 13 years is bound to see dips in form, yet Majid continued to receive the backing of selectors, coaches and captains throughout, such that he represented his country more than 200 times. His omission from the eleven for the Pool A match against Sri Lanka at the 2015 Men’s World Cup had nothing to do with race. 

However that is not the point. The point, as the report explains, is that the atmosphere at CS was such that Majid felt that this was the case. After years of not feeling accepted, at times feeling isolated as the only Scot of Asian descent in the environment, his frustration at being left out of the side was the final straw that led to the posting of his tweet. It is this that we must learn from, and what those now charged with shaping the environment at CS will need to understand, to ensure no person is allowed to feel excluded going forward. 

The report explains that singling a person out, even with positive or inclusive intentions, when that person already feels different, can actually serve to exacerbate their feelings. Seeing the world from other people’s perspectives can be difficult, but it is vital when attempting to establish a rapport or working relationship, and such skills will hopefully be prioritised in the education programmes going forward. Thankfully there are already several individuals within the organisation who are extremely strong in this regard.

Whatever the circumstances around that moment in Hobart seven years ago, I applaud Majid for his stance more recently. By picking up the torch from Azeem Rafiq and using it to shine a light north of the border, Majid sharing his experience led to the commission of the investigation, providing so many complainants with the platform and the confidence to come forward, and in doing so paving the way for real transformational change – not just in cricket but perhaps, one can hope, society. I have already seen internal communications within other, non-sporting organisations along the theme of ‘what can the Cricket Scotland situation teach us?’ In the first instance, of course, it is that organisations must educate their people and have the policies in place to ensure such behaviours as those highlighted by the report are not able to prevail in the first place. Secondly, if any discriminatory behaviour does occur, the procedures must exist, and be trusted, to respond in a way that uncovers the root cause – and set a clear example that such behaviours cannot be tolerated. It is the lack of the above policies, procedures and education, and lack of diversity at Board and Executive level, that have led to the report’s damning verdict on CS’s culture, and why CS is now being made an example.

Majid Haq at the 2015 CWC

There are, however, two points of concern with what reads as a generally solid piece of work. The first is that Plan4Sport did not speak with a number of people one might consider to be central to its investigation. None of the former CEOs, men’s head coaches, men’s captains, Chairman or Performance Director were spoken with, all of whom held senior leadership positions at CS at the time of the most high-profile allegations, and some of whom have been named publicly. It would be hard to believe these omissions to be a simple oversight as the investigation seems to have been otherwise thorough, so it would be helpful to learn why these people were not spoken with. Similarly there have been reports of people contacting the investigation team but not being followed up with.

The second point is whether Plan4Sport was holding CS to a set of standards it was never going to meet. Using the 1999 MacPherson report on the Met Police following the public inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence did at least provide a definition of institutional racism, itself borrowing heavily from Black Power activists Carmichael and Hamilton’s 1967 definition, however the Met is one of the largest police forces in the world, employing over 43,500 people with an annual budget of £3.24 billion, while CS is a sports governing body with a payroll, managed by sportscotland, of fewer than 40 and an annual budget of £2.3 million. 

There is no excuse for what clearly went badly wrong under the previous Board, but it is extremely difficult for an SGB to keep up with the ever-changing landscape, and stay on top of all of its administrative obligations, when already fully stretched by trying to achieve its ambitious mission with limited resources. As sportscotland CEO Stewart Harris rightly pointed out, this is a wake-up call not just for cricket but for all of Scottish sport – it is hard to imagine many, if any SGBs meeting the criteria laid out in the report. Indeed Harris acknowledged that despite its thorough annual auditing of CS, sportscotland was not aware of the problem, let alone its extent, so there are lessons to be learned by all parties. That said, the 31 indicators devised by Plan4Sport do present a gold standard to work towards, and any organisation seeking to improve itself will be able to identify its starting point and work out where to prioritise its attention and resources.

Whether the Board’s collective resignation is seen as avoiding accountability, or accepting the report’s findings and ‘doing the right thing’, is not relevant. Their prompt departure presents the opportunity for the first of the report’s recommendations to be achieved in a timely manner. Crucially, it is not just changing the personnel, but also reviewing the structure, that has been flagged as essential by the report. The point that ‘there is a lack of a clear line of accountability for anti-racism and EDI in the CS governance structures of Board and Council’ could be said to apply to all areas, not just anti-racism and EDI. The comment from one Council member that there is ‘no room for the Board to be challenged on any decisions that they reach or appointments that they make’ hints at the other key finding in this area – that the Board had been working independently of the Council, treating it as a rubber-stamping group, in contravention of the Statement of Primary Responsibilities. 

It is this kind of disconnect and centralisation of power which can lead to catastrophic decisions around recruitment, where organisations can either not do their homework, or do it but go ahead and appoint unsuitable people into leadership positions unchallenged, then allow them to remain in post beyond two years. Such mistakes can be extremely costly in both a human and financial context, so the report’s recommendation that an HR Manager is installed, and more robust recruitment processes be implemented, will be welcomed by many.

Cricket Scotland’s report. (Guardian)

Given the findings of the report, sportscotland would likely face criticism if it didn’t reduce CS’s funding. However sportscotland has invested too much resource, over too many years, with too much success, into a sport loved by too many people, to allow all that to go to waste. Nor would it want to set the new Board and Executive up to fail. At ICC level Cricket Scotland has been a serial winner of global awards, and closer to home it is not long since it was repeatedly short-listed for governing body of the year. A more constructive approach might be for sportscotland to impose a suspended reduction in funding, pending CS meeting new targets for transformational change, while providing CS support to help it achieve them. It is also important to remember that the report recommends the hiring of four additional roles, and withholding or reducing funding while asking for this significant additional resource would be paradoxical. As the national agency for sport, boasting some of the most skilled people in their respective fields, sportscotland is vastly experienced in fostering a balance of high support and high challenge in the environments it supports, and I expect it to continue with this approach as CS begins its period in special measures. Harris, widely acknowledged to be a shrewd leader, was already on the case here when appointing the outstanding John Lunn as interim CEO.

The first task, to appoint a new Board by the end of September, would appear at first glance to be a tall order. However sportscotland could do worse than seek counsel from Sanjay Patel, son of 2006-7 Cricket Scotland President, the late Mahendra. The MD of The Hundred is a proven influencer in the game, understands the cricketing landscape, and as a proud Scotsman is bound to be willing to help. With the 2022 edition of The Hundred now in full swing, the timing may not be considered ideal for Patel – but it could be perfect – he is currently as well-placed as anyone to speak with the very best people in the cricket and commercial sectors, and could help assemble a diverse, high-calibre Board of people with ambition, acumen and proven track records of success in relevant arenas. Furthermore, he would be able to bring with him the hard-learned lessons from the ECB’s experience of racism in the game. If it could be established that his role with ECB does not present a conflict of interest, Patel’s CV and current position would make him an ideal person with whom to discuss the structure and composition of the new Board. Even if such an approach was a temporary measure, perhaps in the shape of an emergency or interim Board, it would surely help in steering the CS ship towards a better course.

CS’s period in special measures, initially expected to be until October 2023, is likely to distil into three phases. The first will centre around recruitment – and it would be sensible to expect the new HR Manager to be among the first – putting first things first, getting that appointment right will increase the chances of getting the others right, thus laying solid foundations for the new CS. Once the Chair, Board, CEO and new staff are in place, this new team can then begin collaborating on the second phase – building the framework. This period will be spent updating policies, procedures, job descriptions, employment contracts, developing and producing awareness education programmes, learning and development plans, data management systems, disciplinary processes and codes of conduct. Phase three will then be about the people – both the paid and voluntary workforce, and the wider Scottish cricket community. As the new education programmes are implemented, and people begin living by the new policies and procedures, cricket in Scotland will begin operating under an EDI-first lens, and CS will in time develop a more robust, more inclusive culture.

Majid Haq at a press conference (PA Wire)

All this will take an enormous amount of effort and resource. Culturally it is a seismic shift in a sport not known, until recent years, for its pace of change. And, after the period of special measures, it will still be just the start. Because the type of change required doesn’t happen in a year, with a fresh broom and the updating of documents. If CS is truly to grasp the opportunity it has been given to lead significant change not just in its own sport but sport and society in general, it is the behaviour of its people thereafter that is the key. Any organisation can brainstorm a few buzzwords for values – it is how its people live these values, how they hold themselves and each other accountable day-in, day-out, and never stop trying to be better, that determine its culture. If CS can recruit more people who are committed to continuous improvement, who welcome feedback and value collaboration, it will have a chance.

As the report states, many people need cricket, and cricket needs many people. As one person intimately acquainted with the situation put it, while the publication of the report may feel like vindication for some, it presents no reason for celebration. There has understandably been a huge amount of emotion around, and everyone in the Scottish cricket community will take their own time and employ their own methods to process. There has been much finger-pointing and naming of individuals and clubs, and I would encourage those doing so to be mindful not to prejudice any ongoing or future processes, or risk bringing trouble upon themselves through any comments or behaviour which may turn out to be defamatory. Now is a time for contrition, reflection and learning – before gearing up for the long and difficult road ahead.

It may take years for CS to heal, gain the trust and confidence of all its stakeholders and be acknowledged as a truly inclusive organisation, but once it has, we will all be thankful for how this bruising experience helped set the course. The whole Scottish cricket community is responsible for ensuring that there is not just change, but change for the better – which is much more difficult.

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