English cricket’s top administrator vowed Friday to lead the sport through “tangible change” after coming under pressure for his handling of a growing racism scandal.
Tom Harrison, the beleaguered chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), faced fresh criticism for his response to revelations of racism by Pakistan-born former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq after they both spoke in front of a parliamentary committee this week.
But following a crisis meeting of the ECB’s constituent members at the Oval, Surrey’s south London headquarters, Harrison insisted he was the right man to steer English cricket through a scandal that has sparked similar allegations at other county teams.
“I’m determined to lead this change through cricket,” Harrison told reporters.
“As a father of two girls, I do want to make sure I leave a game that has absolutely the right safe kind of environment for everyone to feel welcomed and for everyone to feel a sense of belonging in.”
The ECB are currently without a chairman after the resignation of Ian Watmore last month following the controversial decision to call off an England tour of Pakistan scheduled for October.
That led to fears of a leadership vacuum were Harrison to be ousted.
But the 49-year-old said “I did receive the backing of the game today”, with the former county cricketer promising “tangible action”.
Harrison, however, added the details of the action plan would not be published until next week.
– ‘Abhorrent behaviour’ –
“What are the reasons we are experiencing cultural difficulties in the dressing room?,” he said.
“What are the reasons this abhorrent behaviour of racism in our game has attacked the high performance space? These are the kind of areas we will take a much closer look at, which we will be publishing on Wednesday.”
A joint statement on behalf of all those who attended Friday’s meeting lauded Rafiq for shining a “light on our game that has shocked, shamed and saddened us all”.
It added: “To Azeem and all those who have experienced any form of discrimination, we are truly sorry. Our sport did not welcome you, our game did not accept you as we should have done.
“We apologise unreservedly for your suffering…Our game must win back your trust.”
Rafiq, who had criticised the conduct of several former England internationals at Yorkshire, including Gary Ballance who is still at the club, came under fire Thursday after it emerged he had sent anti-Semitic messages when a teenager.
Rafiq said he was “ashamed”, with the 30-year-old former spinner adding: “I apologise to the Jewish community and everyone who is rightly offended by this.”
The fallout for Yorkshire, one of English cricket’s oldest and most prestigious counties, over the scandal has been devastating, with sponsors making a mass exodus and the club suspended from hosting lucrative international matches.
Yorkshire’s chairman and chief executive have both resigned, while head coach Andrew Gale has himself been suspended pending investigations over a historical anti-Semitic tweet.