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Why being part of the change will be harder than you think – and requires ownership

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By Paul Reddish of the Running Out Racism campaign

Like many white cricketers who might consider themselves anti-racist, when I first skimmed the piece by Simon Smith, I was pleased to see someone owning the issue, and glad another voice had entered the debate. But as the WhatsApp messages flooded in from People of Colour at the same rate as the likes and comments talking positively about the piece, my heart sank.

As I have been forced to do a number of times during this crisis I re-read the detail, and alongside those messages saw how a piece that attempts to move us forward constructively, had actually served to cause yet more upset within a part of our cricketing community that continues to suffer, and set us back further still.

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As an ally in this I’m learning as I go, and I hope in this piece to help share some of that learning, so people can form a positive role in this going forward, and build trust rather than further alienating those that have suffered. Even as someone who has spent years championing equalities, I have not walked in the shoes of those who experienced racism and/or unequal treatment, and there have been many times in the last few months that I have looked at things through another lens after people have trusted me with their thoughts, and I continue to confront the fact that, at times, my lack of lived experience will limit my ability to fully understand. It’s why listening to the voices of those who have lived it is the only way we can truly understand what is needed next.

My voice has been intermittent in this rather than constant, mostly because I’ve tried not to take the platform from others, but also because I do my work behind the scenes – I’m a reluctant contributor in public. But I find myself thrust into the middle of this crisis, having relationships of trust with a community that trusts very little within those in positions of power, and an open dialogue with many in positions of power. I feel the burden of that responsibility every day, and, like everyone, I am trying to navigate my way through this, using that trust to find a way forward for our sport. I’ve accepted that I now need to be a much stronger public voice if we are to navigate these tricky next steps successfully.

This piece isn’t really about Simon. I’ve had many such conversations in private and know he is a barometer for how many people feel, and I know therefore this could easily have been penned by many, many other people. I’m pleased he felt able to share some perspectives publicly, as in doing so I can try and explain why this has caused upset in the hope many more can get an insight into what it feels like to be a person of colour reading this. I hope to point out the flaws in this as respectfully as I can. I seek to do so only to help those of us who wish to be allies in this to learn and do the things that are now required to rebuild trust, rather than continue to make the same mistakes through a lack of real appreciation of what is needed next.

If I take some of the detailed points in the article first – firstly, that Majid has been given more support than anyone else. Many of us may have experienced, or know someone who has experienced, toxic relationships, where we experience both affection, but also harms us in some way. This is the best analogy I can give to why this statement is deeply upsetting to Majid and others – the constant hugs and love do not make up for the abuse.  I have no doubt that what Simon says could be true, that Majid will have had lots of support at different points. But like all toxic relationships, that does not make up for the way in which he was made to feel as a minority. Majid doesn’t need to be told he was given lots of hugs. He, and others like him, need to hear that the toxic bits of the relationship were not okay, and that no amount of hugs will ever make up for that. And that, for that, we are all truly sorry. 

Because, of course, this really isn’t just about Majid. Majid has shouldered so much of the publicity and scrutiny around this, to the detriment of his own mental health. But he is one of only 16 non-white cricketers in the history of Scottish internationals to break through the glass ceiling and play. We know as a campaign that half of them have spoken to the enquiry about their own experiences – it may be more, we only know about the ones that have told us. That means that the majority of an already small number feel the same. I speak from the experience of sitting in on many of those meetings as a support and advocate for tens of players, administrators and officials. I’m not really a crier – it takes a lot for me to get to a point where my emotions lead to that sort of release – but since this has broken I have cried at least once every week. The enormity of some of the stories and experiences has been a heavy weight to bear, but it is real, it is widespread and we must now own it.

There’s also some attempt to defend the organisation, suggesting that it should not be held to the same account as the Met (McPherson reference) as it’s a small organisation, and that it’s actually done a lot of good in recent years and won various awards. I’ve heard numerous people cite both these things in private, I know this is a belief of many. But it is flawed in its logic. Limited resources is a reason that makes it more difficult, but it is not an excuse. Let’s be clear – inequalities exist everywhere in society, not just cricket. What makes an organisation institutionally racist is not that it has racism – it’s whether it prioritises tackling it and being proactive about including others on grounds of race. If it does none of these things, it allows racism and inequalities to flourish. That is what has happened here, and it’s why the report concluded what it did.

It failed the test because the organisation has shown little appetite to prioritise inclusion and equality over other things. It could have done this, even with those limited resources, but the choice was made not to. I can tell that many remain to be convinced, so I hope that by sharing some examples below there might be a better understanding of the problem we face. 

In 2015, the choice was made to send Majid home from the World Cup, with no escort and no-one to meet him after a 24 hour flight, and no further communication for 24 hours. The organisation chose to punish him rather than listen to him and try to understand where he was coming from. They acted before they listened. They chose not to support him with his mental health when he pleaded for help in the difficult process that followed. They also chose (confirmed by three separate comms people) to put the word out that Majid was trouble, and was to be avoided at all costs. This message was passed from successive communications person to communications person. They chose, following the Black Lives Matters protest, to say nothing and then spend six months delaying the formation of an equalities committee because they wanted a male player to contribute to the debate but didn’t want to ask in the middle of a busy playing schedule. Several months later, that was addressed with the appointment of a white male player. When it was recommended that equalities training was required for all, they chose to delay it, then cancel it because they were tight for cash and decided to prioritise on other things. It took them a total of two years to get from that point to then hastily publish an equalities action plan, in itself flawed as it didn’t seek to engage in the problem of racism, in the week the press broke Majid and Qasim Sheikh’s stories.  I remember saying to Cricket Scotland at the time, when I offered to review and support it, that it was far from an equalities action plan, more a slightly more inclusive plan, and they should ditch the word equalities from it.  It was far too passive, and lacking in any real ambition. We are taking small steps, was the response.   Well, this is where those small steps have got us. Small steps from a position of inaction lets racism and other inequalities thrive.

Because those inequalities and choices extend far beyond race. I see a headline in another recent Emerging Cricket article entitled ‘Scotland reap rewards for women’s development strategy’. Like the awards Simon mentioned, this headline masks the deep rooted inequalities and issues that exist within Cricket Scotland in relation to the women’s game and in the treatment of women. Scotland are currently ranked 13th in the world.  Every single team ahead of them are centrally contracted – some of those ranked below them also have professional athletes. They are continually asked to compete with sides that have full time training, rather than trying to fit things in alongside a full time job. And they are doing well. It bodes the question just how good they would be if we would only invest in them in the same way all the other nations around them are.

Many have cited a lack of funds to be able to do this, and when asked that they would love to do it if they had the money. Several months ago, I asked what the first step should be and how much it would cost. They didn’t have an answer – no-one had bothered to work it out. If they haven’t even worked that out, there is no way any resource or effort could have been put into seeking that money from sponsorship or other sources to make it happen. These choices are not related to the size of an organisation, they are related to a lack of prioritisation of groups who have been marginalised in the sport for a long time.

In the middle of my board tenure (around 2017 or 18), I was asked if my club, Edinburgh South CC, could host the women’s national team awards at Inch Park. This happened a few weeks after a sit-down dinner at a hotel for the men, with several hundred guests. We gave the venue for free, as they were given no budget. Our national team players organised the entire event themselves, even organising free takeaway pizzas with a local restaurant to cover food. They still had expenses, and organised an auction of some prizes to cover the cost. Out of embarrassment (I was on the council at the time), I purchased the lot to make sure they covered the event.

That in itself was a mistake. I effectively covered for the organisation’s failings. I was part of the problem. I should have raised it with the board straight away and insisted that they cover it. That was a turning point for me. Three years into my tenure I promised I would start being more vocal and challenging on these issues.

It was hard work, and in the end I decided the organisation wasn’t ready. I stood down in 2019, amicably, but discontented. And not wanting to rock the boat I walked quietly away. 

These issues are the tip of the iceberg. I could cite many, many more examples of choices made that have effectively furthered inequalities on the grounds of race and gender. The organisation has achieved a lot over the last ten years, but those achievements have been built on a prioritisation that has led to the further neglect of these two underserved groups. That’s not okay, and it’s why things must change.

I know some are afraid of what to say and do, and that in itself is a problem. So if the article Simon wrote is how a lot of people feel, and that is causing upset to many still, what is the alternative? How do people find their voice and support without getting this wrong? 

We do need people’s voice in this in this – but we need those people to first listen and seek to understand. To be part of the solution, they must first sit and understand the problem.  In doing that it’s going to feel very uncomfortable, because we are going to have to therefore accept that we have been part of a system that has discriminated against various groups on the grounds of race and gender.  And that our actions and inactions are all part of that.

These are the steps – 1) ownership, 2) listening, 3) understanding the problem, 4) taking action.

On ownership, I’ve had to do a lot of that. I was part of the institution. I had no idea things were this bad. But that is my fault, because I didn’t look hard enough. I didn’t ask the right questions. I did on gender equality, but not on race, and I have to live with that. I could have made more of a difference if I better understood what was happening. I also think I should have stayed on and fought this harder from the inside. I walked away because it was too hard, and I didn’t feel as though others were supportive of putting equalities at the heart of what we are doing. And I definitely didn’t say how I truly felt when I left, because I didn’t want to cause a fuss. All of these things were opportunities for me to be a proper ally, and I failed because it felt too hard.  

Again, that is something I have to live with. I’m sorry to the lost generation of minority ethnic players and women who have experienced inequalities in this organisation. I promise you all I will do all I can to make up for not doing enough in earlier years. I will continue to stand alongside you, challenge anything that needs to be challenged and I will not – ever – take a backward step again, however hard. You are brave, resilient and deserve better. You are an inspiration to me, and you have given us a chance here to make things right for future generations. I won’t let you down again.

The next step is to listen and understand the problem. I’ve been doing a lot of that too.  Even now I get the odd thing wrong. I won’t ever fully understand lived experience, but I can be a good ally by listening to others and ensuring they get a platform and a voice in this.  However much we wish it, we cannot be part of the solution unless we are truly willing to listen, accept our faults in the past and change ourselves. Defending aspects of the past, suggesting solutions to a problem we’ve not taken the time to fully understand or criticising people for calling things out is not going to cut it any more.  

If we want the criticism to stop, we need to own the failings in our own approaches, then listen and act. We need to be better.

I think it’s important to highlight at this point that there are people out there already doing exactly that. People like Toby Bailey. Toby has been part of the system a long time. Like me, he is going to have to confront the truth that he has been part of the problem. But he’s owning it, he’s had various conversations with various people, and he’s started engaging new voices in decision related to performance. He’s listening, and he’s taking action off the back of it. I remember a conversation with Phil Yelland quite early in his tenure. He immediately got what was required. He was empathetic, listened and did more than anyone to reach out and understand at board level. I personally am a little sad that Phil was part of the board that resigned, he was doing all the right things and I hope he’ll be able to play some other form of positive role going forward. Then there’s Jake Perry, who wrote about the Cricket Scotland perspective regarding Majid in his book, which caused distress to Majid. But Jake owned it. He spoke to him directly, listened and then acted by committing to writing a piece on his perspective. All of these people, like me, have been part of the institution. We have all made mistakes. But we are all now taking the actions required to redress that and make things better. There are others. These examples all give me hope.

Many have suggested that we now need to come together and that the criticism needs to stop, but that can only happen if people take these steps. But that appeal is going to the wrong people. The change needs to come from us – not from those who have suffered. Only then will the criticism stop and the trust be rebuilt.

I am really happy to talk to anyone about this, as, I am sure, are Toby, Phil or Jake about their own experiences in taking this approach. It’s a hard journey, listening to this and having to accept that you’ve been part of something that’s failed so many. But it really is the only way, and that for me is showing the true leadership and allyship required to improve the sport and rebuild it with equalities as a core part of its ethos and values.

To all the people out there that have bravely spoken out and continue to call out issues as they happen, please keep going. The one thing in the article I can strongly disagree with is the need for you to stop calling things out. As long as you keep to the facts of what you see and how it makes you feel, you are on safe ground. And I want you to keep doing it.  I know it makes people uncomfortable, but you’ve suffered in silence for too long. So keep speaking up. Keep holding us all to account. Keep criticising us, and, please, don’t bow to the pressure of saying it doesn’t help.

I know it’s exhausting. But you are doing amazingly well, and only by shining a light on the problem will it truly change. I hope that over time, those who find this uncomfortable will recognise that it is all about us growing. If challenged – don’t criticise. Own it, listen, and then be better. 

I do hope this helps many who want to be allies see this sort of contribution in a different light, and get what is now required to help rebuild trust and move forward together.

If we can all do that, then the plea to change for the better that Simon makes in his article is within our grasp. It just won’t be achieved with any shortcuts, we need to do the hard yards laid out in this article.

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Emerging Cricket
Emerging Cricket
Emerging Cricket is a collective of individuals brought together in their passion for the growth of the game outside its traditional centres – to provide news, insight and opinion on the sport beyond the mainstream, at the game’s frontiers; cricket’s new world.

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