A damning new report sheds light on how racism is rampant across the Scottish cricketing circuit.
Majid Haq was sent back home after he posted a race-related tweet, letting out his discontent at not being selected for Scotland’s cricket World Cup game against Sri Lanka in March 2015.
In the tweet, which was later deleted, Haq said; “Always tougher when you’re in the minority! #colour #race.”
Seven years later, in a damning report, an independent review into Scotland’s cricket circuit has found the leadership practices and governance of Cricket Scotland—the body that oversees the game in the country—to be “institutionally racist”, upholding Haq’s claims.
The report, titled ‘Changing the Boundaries’, researched and drafted by consultancy firm Plan4Sport, recorded testimonies of nearly 1,000 participants, unearthing 448 instances demonstrating institutional racism, while referring 68 individuals for further investigation on 31 counts of racism against 15 different people, two clubs and a regional association. Some instances of racism have also been reported to Police Scotland as hate crime.
Moreover, out of a scale of 31 indicators to measure the gravity of the problem, Cricket Scotland failed on 29 and only partially managed to meet the requirements on the remaining two.
Haq was 32 years old at the time and Scotland’s highest wicket-taker—a record he holds to this day— when his cricketing career came to an abrupt end. He wasn’t alone in bringing to light instances of racism though. His fellow cricketer, Qasim Sheikh, had also leveled similar allegations, saying he had been racially abused while playing at the age of 15.
However, Qasim said when it happened, he had his peers to back him up, adding that the majority of the players he played with were very inclusive.
Racism in cricket
Any sport, or let’s say cricket, is known for its spirit—that is, showing respect to an opponent for their skill. How then has racism seeped into it?
“As far as racism is concerned, cricket is life. Racism happens in life, and so it happens in cricket,” says Dr Richard Thomas, an associate professor of journalism at Swansea University and author of Cricketing Lives.
“It is cruelly ironic – cricket’s multicultural dimension has so much to offer as a unifying force for good, and so it’s so sad that such a lack of tolerance still exists. So it’s a cricket problem in the local sense, but a societal problem that goes much wider than cricket.”
In September 2020, Azeem Rafiq, a former professional cricketer with Yorkshire in England, revealed to ESPN Cricinfo in an interview how he was close to taking his own life due to “institutional racism” at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Rafiq’s revelations, where he said he suffered consistent abuse and racist language, led to several inquiries, forcing government intervention and eventually leading to resignations of Yorkshire’s chairman Roger Hutton and chief executive Mark Arthur.
While Haq and Sheikh were born in Scotland, Rafiq had moved to England when he was 10. What’s common among Haq, Sheikh and Rafiq is that they are not ethnically British or Scottish — or at least the racism they faced made them feel as the other.
“The obvious and more challenging approach is to stop racism happening in the first place. That needs more than just cricket’s attention – everyone needs to be a part of that,” says Dr Thomas. “But the simmering existence of extreme right-wing politics and its intolerance for immigrants and multiculturalism is a problem that goes way beyond cricket.”
There are still lessons to be learned from the experiences of those who suffered due to the lack of systemic oversight to root out racism, abuse or provide a safer, level-playing field for all people.
Dr Thomas says from a positive point of view, at least cricket is prepared to call this behaviour out when it is discovered.
“At both Yorkshire and in Scotland, racism seems to have developed and built over a long period. The fact it was identified and is being dealt with is good, but it has taken a significant amount of human suffering to get to that point,” he says.
Now that the cricketing world and fraternity is no more oblivious to instances of racism and abuse in the game, finding a way forward holds much importance, and questions such as how can these serious revelations be addressed by those in high offices merits urgent dialogue.
One obvious way, according to Dr Thomas, is that the game must work harder to embrace and embed equality, diversity and inclusivity into everything from the ground up. “The world of cricket is often male, pale and stale, and it must realise that the game belongs to everyone, not just to some narrow, elite groups,” he says.