Eoin Morgan has backed the ECB’s efforts to foster a more inclusive culture in English cricket, but admits that stories such as Azeem Rafiq’s claims of institutional racism at Yorkshire demonstrate how much further the sport has to go to truly embrace equal opportunities.
Speaking on the eve of the first T20I against Australia, Morgan – who was born in Dublin and played for Ireland for three years before qualifying for England in 2009 – said that the diversity of England’s World Cup-winning squad had not only showed the value of embracing different cultures but, in his opinion, it offered a fairer reflection of the current status of English cricket.
“When I hear these stories I’m surprised to start with,” Morgan said. “But also, in light of these stories coming out, the ECB have been active in trying to rectify and become more diverse and create equal opportunity for everybody.
“I think given the squad of players we have and the guys of different cultures, backgrounds, different races, I think the diverse nature of it really does epitomise where English cricket is at.”
In addition to Morgan, England’s current squad includes three players of Pakistani origin in Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and the stand-by Saqib Mahmood; two who were born in Barbados in Jofra Archer and Chris Jordan, and three of southern African background in Dawid Malan and the Curran brothers.
And speaking immediately after the World Cup victory last July, Morgan had responded to an enquiry about the “luck of the Irish” in the closing stages of that remarkable contest by saying, semi-seriously, that Rashid had told him that “Allah is with us”.
“It actually epitomises our team,” Morgan said at the time. “With quite diverse cultures and backgrounds, and guys growing up in different countries. To find humour in the situation that we were in at the time was pretty cool.”
That diversity, he added, had been reflected in the ethnic mix of the fans that England encountered on their World Cup travels, as they played their fixtures in each of the tournament’s major venues and found support from a range of different backgrounds.
“I think travelling around during last year’s World Cup and going to 10 different grounds up and down the country and watching the supporters flood in of all different races, all following England was great,” he said.
“It made us all feel extremely proud. One of the noted things we talked about when we watched back the World Cup final and the camera pans to the crowd – people in England shirts are not all white. They are of different races and for us, as a team, I think that’s quite a thing we can be proud of.”
Nevertheless, Rafiq’s comments – which drew a promise of an official inquiry from Yorkshire – include claims that senior players, including one of his club captains, had been “openly racist”. They follow a similarly explosive testimony from Michael Carberry, the former England opener, whose claims that “black people are not important to the ECB” forced the board to embrace some “uncomfortable truths“, according to the chief executive, Tom Harrison.
In a subsequent statement, the ECB said that they were “deeply troubled” by Rafiq’s experiences, and reiterated the board’s commitment to “making the changes needed to make cricket a game for everyone”. Harrison is understood to be taking a personal involvement in his case.
“Azeem’s story is similar to some of the experiences we have heard about during the Black Lives Matter movement and demonstrates how much work is needed across the game, sport and society as a whole to eradicate racism,” said the ECB.
Morgan also recognised that more needed to be done to ensure that such situations get dealt with more proactively when they first arise, but reflected on the England team’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement as proof that they were making a effort to keep the issue visible. Players on both sides during the Tests against West Indies and the ODIs against Ireland took a knee in support of the movement, although this was not done during the Pakistan series and will not be repeated against Australia.
“I think our display throughout the Ireland series [showed] our ambition to try and create more sustainable awareness around our fight against racism and the creation of equal opportunities and equality in sport,” Morgan said. “It’s important to drive that forward because it shouldn’t exist in society. When people talk about it they should feel comfortable coming out to talk about it – we want everybody to know that.
“An area where we can get better is telling people our story more, getting comfortable talking about growing up in a different country or growing up in a different environment within this country, and our journey to where we are today,” he added.
“There’s not one player that’s had an easy ride throughout this. It’s very difficult to get into an England cricket changing-room or an England cricket shirt. But even more so by coming from a diverse background, it creates different challenges.”