- By Stephan Shemilt
- Chief cricket writer at Lord’s
Of all the times for cricket looking in the mirror, perhaps this week provides the clearest reflection.
Either by accident or design, the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket’s (ICEC) damning report into “pervasive” discrimination in the game collapsed on the eve of the Lord’s Ashes Test – findings of racism, sexism, classism and elitism were laid out. just in time for the showpiece event of the marquee Test series at the self-styled ‘Home of Cricket’.
As the report says, Lord’s and the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) have a “powerful and unique” role in the game. Across the 317 pages, Lord’s is mentioned 56 times and the MCC 125. In comparison to the other four men’s Ashes venues this summer, The Oval crops up four times, Edgbaston, Headingley and Old Trafford no to everyone.
Out of the ICEC’s 44 recommendations, Lord’s or the MCC is directly mentioned in three of them. Recommendation 18, which involved removing historic fixtures between Eton and Harrow, and Oxford and Cambridge, gained more traction.
“Those who argue for the continuation of historical events seem to fail to understand the damage they are doing to the reputation of the MCC and Lord’s in the public imagination – conjuring up a perception, fair or not, that MCC members are out of touch, elitist and is not representative of the wider population and those who play cricket,” the report said.
“While the game strives to be more inclusive, as it clearly should be, decisions like these at ‘The Home of Cricket’ are more damaging than some people realize.”
For those who have read or heard the report, perceptions of its findings will be influenced by individual experiences of the game. It is human nature to form our opinions on things that happen to us.
If anyone has spent any time around cricket and has not been the subject of, witnessed, or heard of some form of discrimination, they can count themselves extremely lucky, because the problems in the sport reflect what is going on. in society.
To be personal for a moment, I’m from Stoke-on-Trent, went to state school and played club cricket since I was nine or 10 years old. I’m closer to 40 than I’d like to be and, to my knowledge, have never been discriminated against based on race, gender or class. My dad once complained to the Staffordshire Under-12s coach because he thought I wasn’t playing enough, but the truth was my leg-spin wasn’t very good – I started taking wickets soon after.
I mention this because my own impression of Lord’s is shaped by what I know (or think I know) of cricket.
And, clearly, Lord’s is different from every other cricketer in the country. The Veuve Clicquot stand provides ammunition for champagne corks being popped in the outfield, there are more shirts and ties here than the other four Ashes Tests combined, and I’m not 100% sure I’m allowed in the pavilion ( I never tried on a match day, but there is somewhere else).
Not that any of these are “wrong” per se, or strictly limited to cricket. People dress up to go to Ascot or Wimbledon; it can be fun to have an experience different from the way you might normally watch sport.
However, if you feel different somewhere, like you need to change your behavior, is it engaging? And if that one place proclaims itself as the “Home of Cricket”, should it make everyone feel that way?
Lord’s is inextricably linked to an MCC membership that controls the ground and, therefore, wields considerable power over the game.
According to the MCC’s own website, applications for membership cannot be made until a candidate is at least 16 years old. A candidate must be nominated by a current full member, then interviewed by two “endorsers”. The waiting list is about 29 years, which means the youngest age of a new member is 45, if they’re lucky. Women were not admitted until as recently as 1999.
In a survey of its membership conducted in November 2021, MCC found that 95-96% of its membership is white. There were not enough members who identified as black, black British, Caribbean or African to register a result. Of the 27% of membership that responded, 48% felt that MCC should do more in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion.
These figures add context to the row taking place within the MCC over historic fixtures, highlighted in stark fashion by the ICEC report, along with the fact that England’s women have never played a Test at Lord’s.
But to focus solely on the residual presence of the Eton-Harrow and Oxford-Cambridge fixtures is to ignore other realities relating to Lord’s and the MCC.
England women have played 16 one-day internationals here, more than anywhere else in this country. The MCC Foundation supports more than 3,200 state-educated players, running 77 hubs across the UK. Lord’s claims to have welcomed the most diverse crowd for matches at The Hundred, compared to the other seven venues.
Perhaps one of the issues is the image cricket fans and the wider public have of Lord. Perception can become reality. The perception is that Lord’s is male, old, white and privileged. The reality of the England men’s team playing at Lord’s on Wednesday is that it is all white and nine of the XI attended private schools for at least some part of their education.
Naturally, most of the changes required in the game will have to be driven by the England and Wales Cricket Board, but Lord’s, as the most recognizable symbol of the game in this country, has a part to play.
“As some within the game try to promote it, others seek to rely on its history to stop it,” the ICEC report said.
Lord’s is the living embodiment of cricket history. Now it will help shape his future.
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