As someone who grew up playing cricket, with aspirations of playing for a living, I’ve always been fascinated by the sport. My cricketing career didn’t progress, sadly, but I have developed many friends in cricket through playing the game, business and charity work over the years. These friends include John Simpson, the Middlesex, England and Northern Superchargers wicketkeeper and batsman.
In the light of recent press accounts of racism involving Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the experiences of players from ethnic minorities such as Azeem Rafiq, John generously suggested having a discussion about diversity in cricket, to see whether we can find any positives that will help future players and their enjoyment of the game.
Respect people from other cultures
John described the cultural differences that exist between white people and other nationalities, and how we should take steps to overcome those barriers. He said, “As a white person, you don’t necessarily understand the tough times others have been through to improve their lives – but listening to their experiences can be eye-opening. Many players I’ve met are incredible human beings who face real challenges in forging new lives in a different culture”. He continued, “Having played in India, how you’re treated there as a white person is humbling and makes you realise how lucky we are in the UK with our freedom and privileges”.
I asked John how he thought things should change in our society. He said, “People from other cultures should be respected. As professional players we have a duty to help and find talent wherever it may be. This is our opportunity to educate people, help them understand different backgrounds, learn from past misdemeanours, and change society. In a multicultural area like Tower Hamlets, for example, there’s a great pathway system to develop talent but more could be done. We have a duty to make cricket more diverse – there’s a lot of talent amongst Asian and other communities, but they are not getting the same opportunities as us”.
We can really change things
Asked about his own background and upbringing, John said “Growing up in Manchester, racism was accepted. My parents and grandparents had different views to mine. My generation and the one following can really change things, knowing when not to cross the line and not to speak without thinking. Today, we’re better able to understand the difficulties that those from other cultures have had”.
“What about that remark made by Michael Vaughan?” I asked, suggesting it might have been meant as banter. John said he thought it probably was a joke but that light-hearted humour is out of the window now, with things being seen as either black or white. I felt it was possible Vaughan had been joking and he’d felt uncomfortable admitting this. We know racism can’t be brushed off as banter. People usually know the line. As someone who has experienced this kind of banter, I said I’ve sometimes taken things the wrong way. I suggested – and John agreed – it’s better to be educated about when something is meant as a joke, so that mistakes aren’t repeated, and people don’t feel they can have a bit of banter with me or others from ethnic minorities.
Diversity and inclusion – a business priority
As someone from a minority background, I told John it was very brave of him to volunteer to talk about this subject. It is powerful hearing a high-profile white sportsperson talk openly about diversity and racism. John said he thought the more we educate ourselves and talk about it, the more positive things will become. “We should help people understand racism is wrong and have honest conversations about it, which puts different cultures and backgrounds in perspective. It is up to my generation and the next one to make the changes going forwards”.
2k Tiger serves the business community, and diversity and inclusion are also important topics in the business context. As John said, company boards still tend to be composed of white males (although female representation is improving), but some cricket clubs such as Middlesex have tried to diversify their board make-up, so there is Asian representation. But there’s still a long way to go. It is a subject that 2k Tiger will be pursuing in workshops, round tables and other events we’re organising as well as in our soon-to-be-launched 2k Tiger Academy. The Academy is designed to help those looking to advance their careers and to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.