5th November 2022 was an important milestone for me, marking the one year anniversary of being made Chair of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
12 months into the job, I have reflected on an experience that has brought into sharp focus the barriers that still need to be overcome and the work that needs to be done as we fight discrimination of all kinds – not just in cricket, but in sport and society more widely.
It has highlighted the need for a more widespread review across a number of our most beloved institutions to ensure that they are inclusive and fit-for-purpose in a modern-day society.
I am proud to be from Yorkshire, and it has been a huge honour to represent this great club over the past year despite the many challenges we have faced, some of which we have successfully addressed, some of which we are working through and some of which remain challenging.
There has been much progress given what had been an existential threat to the club and the sport as a whole: the fact we remain standing should not be underestimated. When I walked into the Club, we had lost the bulk of our sponsors and had seen the great privilege of hosting international and major matches taken away from Headingley.
The club did not deal with historical complaints of discrimination properly. The stain of the scandal ran right to the core of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, serving as a demoralising influence on everyone who worked here.
I spoke at the DCMS Select Committee in January about the impact of this – colleagues who previously took pride in the White Rose badge told me eloquently and emotionally about covering it up every time they left the ground.
It has been an honour and privilege to take on the role of Chair of such a prestigious organisation. However it was never my desire to become the face of the club or to be synonymous with the period of change it is going through. An organisation cannot rely on a single individual to drive cultural change, at least if it wants to do so in a sustainable or effective manner and the work being done at the Club is tantamount to the drive and determination of a team who are committed to driving meaningful change – to make Yorkshire the best club it can be.
I now have the great pleasure of working with a vibrant and ambitious new Board appointed through a fair and robust application process. The Board combines expertise, grit, and best-in-class experience across a wide range of disciplines. In six months, they have all worked tirelessly in the background to get the Club back on an even footing.
Working with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), we have instilled more rigour in the management of the club, overhauling the way people can report discrimination via our whistleblowing hotline, integrating gold standard governance processes under the guidance of the Good Governance Institute, and starting the process to achieve accreditation with the National Centre for Diversity. We have also taken steps to make the matchday experience a more inclusive and friendly atmosphere for all, including the introduction of more family friendly alcohol-free areas, and sensory rooms to offer a calmer space for those with sensory processing issues.
The Board’s support on the development of our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) plan has been vital to securing the future of the Club, as well as boosting our Pathways programme – for the boys in the system this has seen a nearly 40% increase in attendees for regional observations, and an increase of 60% of cricketers selected from a diverse background at County Age Group when compared with 2021. And we know we need to aim for the same with girls in our Pathway: Girls County Age Group nominations have already increased by 60.7% from 2021.
The foundations that the Board has helped lay down, supported by committed staff throughout the organisation, have required an internal focus for much of 2022. But our ambition goes beyond getting on a robust financial footing – we want to grow and diversify within Yorkshire, the UK, and globally. Bringing the game to new audiences will be vital for survival.
At the same time, it is absolutely crucial that County Championship matches are not reduced, as set out in the High Performance Review. We are holding a vote on this matter to let Yorkshire club members have a chance to have their say in an EGM on 11 November, where we hope they will ratify this stance. Our Members are the lifeblood of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and they have been through this difficult period with us. Relegation to Division Two makes us all the more determined to bounce back in a full programme County game which remains the cornerstone of cricket in this country.
As we move into the new year, we will be led by our new CEO Stephen Vaughan and we are excited to welcome him to the Club. It was vital that we appointed someone of the highest quality and Stephen is one of the most highly regarded leaders in UK sport, having taken an active role in driving transformational change at both Gloucester Rugby and Wasps, while serving on the Rugby Premiership Board. He is also passionate about fostering an inclusive culture and actively advocates our vision for this Club to be a place for everyone.
Given what has happened at Wasps in recent weeks, Stephen’s appointment has been reported in that context which is inevitable. Yet he has spoken openly and emotionally about the circumstances that led to the situation.
As a Board, we were satisfied that the challenging financial situation predated his appointment – indeed, his calm handling of a turbulent situation demonstrated the cool head that is sure to be required at times here. Having spent years working in and around professional sport, Stephen will know only too well that criticism comes with the territory.
I mention the word criticism, and there has been much of this of Yorkshire in my tenure. Looking back on the year has given me cause to consider what an individual should be expected to put up with in the face of attempting to enact change.
There have been times when this has crossed the line into sustained and personal attacks. We do not want to stoop to that level, but it does make me question the interest specific parties have in the long-term health of the Club – over their own self-interest and desire for things to go back to how they were. The lack of anger from those same individuals towards those who failed to address the clear issues raised by Azeem Rafiq has been notable.
The decisions that we have taken as a Club have always been made in its best interests, including management changes.
I have my own experiences to share in due course, and welcome the opportunity to do this publicly at the DCMS hearings that have been set for December. It is sure to be an illuminating process to see how far cricket has come since I last sat before the same MPs at the beginning of the year.
2023 may be a vintage year for cricket – we can’t wait for the Ashes in front of a full house in Leeds – but there will be more harsh realities across the game which we must face into.
There is still much to do to make us a Club of which we can be truly proud. But with the structure and people we now have in place, I have the strongest faith that we will come together through our determination to be back at the pinnacle of English cricket for the long-term.