English cricket’s ‘endemic problem’ with racism was exposed once again on Tuesday after the chairman of Middlesex used ‘lazy, unhelpful and misguided’ stereotypes during an embarrassing performance in front of MPs.
Giving evidence to a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee hearing, Mike O’Farrell appeared to blame the lack of diversity in county cricket on black children preferring football and youngsters from south Asian communities prioritising education.
O’Farrell was later forced to issue an apology for his clumsy comments, which were criticised by former players Azeem Rafiq and Ebony Rainford-Brent, as well as Kick It Out, the anti-discrimination group who only on Tuesday announced a partnership with the ECB.
Mike O’Farrell has outraged many within English cricket following his ‘lazy, unhelpful and misguided’ racial stereotypes during an embarrassing performance in front of MPs on Tuesday
Giving evidence to a DCMS committee, the Middlesex chairman appeared to blame the lack of diversity in county cricket on Afro-Caribbean and South Asians choosing other things
Whistleblower Rafiq also slammed multi-millionaire Hampshire supremo Rod Bransgrove, who suggested the domestic game was actually ‘overachieving’ when it came to diversity, before trying to claim he too had experienced ‘prejudice’.
O’Farrell, Bransgrove, Glamorgan chair Gareth Williams and new Yorkshire chair Lord Patel were all giving evidence at the latest DCMS committee hearing into racism in cricket, two months after ex-Yorkshire spinner Rafiq’s explosive testimony on the discrimination he faced during his career.
Challenged by committee chair Julian Knight on why Middlesex, based in one of the most diverse cities in the world, were not attracting more players from ethnic backgrounds, O’Farrell said: ‘As we move up the chain, particularly as we get to the academy, we find it becomes more difficult for several reasons.
‘The football and rugby world becomes much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community.
‘In terms of the South Asian community, there is a moment where we’re finding that they do not want necessarily to commit the same time that is necessary to go to the next step.
‘They prefer – not always saying they do it – to go into other educational fields and then cricket becomes secondary. Part of that is because it’s a rather more time-consuming sport than some others.’
Azeem Rafiq’s bombshell testimony to the DCMS panel last November caused a sensation
O’Farrell’s remarks were reminiscent of those made by former FA chairman Greg Clarke during his gaffe-ridden performance to the same committee in November 2020, when he suggested south Asian people chose careers in IT over sport. Clarke resigned later that day.
Responding to O’Farrell’s comments, Rafiq – who described English cricket as ‘institutionally racist’ during his DCMS committee appearance in November – tweeted: ‘This has just confirmed what a endemic problem the game has. I actually can’t believe what I am listening to. #GiveMeStrength.’
Leading pundit Ebony Rainford-Brent, the first black woman to play for England who has launched an African-Caribbean engagement programme in Surrey, posted: ‘Honestly these outdated views in the game are exactly why we are in this position.
‘Unfortunately the decision makers hold onto these myths. “The Black community only like football, and Asian community only interested in education”. Seriously the game deserves better.’
Kick It Out also condemned O’Farrell on the same day they joined forces with the ECB to ‘identify and address issues of equality, diversity and inclusion within cricket’.
Greg Clarke resigned as FA chairman after a disastrous Parliamentary panel with the DCMS which he made reference to ‘coloured footballers’ among a host of other offensive gaffes
In a statement released to Sportsmail, the group’s chief executive Tony Burnett said: ‘We have seen this kind of sentiment before. It is lazy, unhelpful, and misguided to suggest that black and Asian communities are not as interested in cricket as their white counterparts.
‘Cricket needs to understand why representation in the sport is not where it should be, but discriminatory stereotypes about black and Asian communities cannot inform that exploration.
‘This is something our partnership with the ECB will facilitate. We will look to uncover hard facts with research that highlight issues of equality, diversity and inclusion in cricket and how our organisations can work together to address them.’
Following the backlash, O’Farrell released a statement to offer his ‘wholehearted apologies’. He said: ‘I wholly accept that this misunderstanding is entirely down to my own lack of clarity and context in the answers I provided, and I am devastated that my comments have led to the conclusions some have made.
‘I apologise for any upset or hurt my earlier comments may have caused. That was most definitely not my intention.’
Leading pundit Ebony Rainford-Brent publicly slammed O’Farrell for his ‘outdated’ comments
However, in a later interview with Sky Sports News, O’Farrell claimed his comments had been ‘taken out of context’. Asked if he was considering resigning, he added: ‘Not at this particular stage. If the board decide that they think I should step down, I will do that. I have one more year to go. If the members feel strongly enough, I am sure they will tell me.’
Meanwhile, O’Farrell’s Hampshire counterpart Bransgrove also came under fire following his evidence to MPs and was forced to refute a damaging allegation put to him by committee member Kevin Brennan.
The Labour MP said to Bransgrove: ‘It’s been put to me that at the chairs meeting at the Oval on November 19, you were heard to say to some of your colleagues, “The trouble is they have forgotten the value of white men”, and that you, in response to the Rafiq racism revelations, said, “I know what racism is like – I am a white man over 60”.’
Bransgrove described the allegations as ‘absolute nonsense’, however, he later added: ‘I might have made a comment like that but nothing about being white or 65.
‘I do know what prejudice is like, I do know what it is like to be overlooked for reasons that are completely outside of your control.’
Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove (left) is alleged to have made racist remarks
In response to a separate question on whether counties could hit diversity targets, Bransgrove replied: ‘In some areas I think we are already there and probably overachieving in some areas.’
Speaking to Sky Sports News, Rafiq added: ‘I found it staggering to hear that one of the chairs felt that they were actually overachieving in this space.
‘It’s safe to say I am pretty angry. It just shows what a long way we have got to go. Clearly you have a demographic of county chairs that don’t see the problem.
‘These are comments that were made in a public forum. It makes you question and think what their beliefs are actually in private. Today has shown everyone up and down the country where the problem lies.’