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ECB calls review in face of umpires’ accusation of institutional racism

The England and Wales Cricket Board has admitted its pool of professional match officials is lacking in diversity and a review of the system is now under way after two former umpires accused the governing body of institutional racism.

John Holder, who retired in 2009 after 30 years as an umpire, and Ismail Dawood, a former first-class cricketer who then struggled to break into the umpiring ranks, have come together as part of a grassroots campaign called Stump Out Racism that has highlighted the absence of non-whites in the ranks.

The pair have also called for a QC-led inquiry and the involvement of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, with 28 years having passed since a non-white umpire – Vanburn Holder in 1992 – was promoted to the ECB’s full-time panel.

They also point out that no one from a black or Asian minority ethnic background has ever been employed by the ECB as a pitch liaison officer, cricket liaison officer, match referee or umpires’ coach – roles which all come under the same department.

John Holder, who stood in international cricket and is a regular guest on BBC Test Match Special, has given the example of the former England fast bowler Devon Malcolm, who he says was dissuaded from moving into umpiring after retirement.

“It’s a concern of mine that not one black cricketer has progressed on to the full-time panel in nearly 30 years,” Holder told the Guardian. “When I heard about Devon being talked out of it, I was quite appalled. And in the meantime other white umpires have been encouraged. To me that is more than suspicious.

“When I retired in 2009 I received a glowing testimonial from the ECB but when I later applied for a role as a mentor, I never even got a reply. There have been ex-players moved to these roles, without having umpired. At one point a rugby referee was hired as a mentor. Some of the choices, there was no logic.”

Holder’s suspicions grew further when learning about Dawood, who after a playing career as a wicketkeeper for Northamptonshire, Worcestershire, Glamorgan and Yorkshire found his path into umpiring hit by setbacks inconsistent with others.

Speaking to the Guardian on Tuesday, Dawood said: “When I first put my CV forward to the ECB about umpiring a reply came back that included lots of reasons why I couldn’t, including a lack of experience. And yet a few years later a white ex-player went straight from playing to umpiring.

“One year I was told I hadn’t done the relevant exams to progress – my plan was to do them that winter – then at the same time another [white] umpire got on to the reserve list and began standing in matches without any qualifications at all.

“I did get on to the reserve list of umpires and got first-class games, but I was passed over for promotion on six different occasions. In 2013 I was told in my appraisal I was ‘technically sound’ and this was supported by stats and reports from captains. However I was told ‘consideration’ had to be made ‘about who best fits in’.

“In 2014, when I started to speak up, I suddenly wasn’t given any first-class games at all that season. I didn’t make sense. I raised the issues with ECB but I felt totally isolated. I ended up walking away from umpiring altogether. They did a job on me.”

Dawood insists the “numbers don’t lie” and the fast-tracking of others is an example of “white privilege”. He also claims to have heard the word “Paki” used in a meeting, only to be ignored by the ECB management who were present.

As such both Dawood and Holder have little faith in the ECB’s ability to address the issue, with the Stump Out Racism campaign claiming to have evidence of “obstruction and interference” in the past.

It follows the suspension of a senior member of staff during the summer amid an allegation of racial discrimination. The person in question has since been cleared by an employment investigation but the governing body accepts that issues remain.

An ECB spokesperson said: “Today’s group of professional umpires doesn’t reflect the diverse ECB we are determined to be. We want to see more BAME representation among our officials, and recognise we still have a long way to go as a game to achieve this.

“Earlier this year we commissioned a full independent employment investigation into allegations made against an individual, and while these were not upheld, the investigation did identify areas where we need to be better and do more to be inclusive and diverse. The ECB has now commissioned a review, with Board oversight, to look at how we can reform our approach to managing Match Officials.”

It comes at a time when Yorkshire are also investigating separate allegations of institutional racism by former player Azeem Rafiq. Dawood, who was the first British Asian to play first-class cricket for the club back in 2004, said he has not been contacted by anyone involved regarding his own experiences.

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