The ECB has said it remains committed to driving “critical change” for all those who believe that cricket is not currently a “game for them”, following criticism from Michael Holding for the decision not to take a knee during the Pakistan and Australia series.
Players, officials and support staff on both sides performed the gesture of kneeling ahead of all three Tests against West Indies – during which Holding and his fellow Sky Sports commentator Ebony Rainford-Brent gave powerful testimony about their experience of racism in sport – as well as the three ODIs against Ireland.
However, they did not do so during the Tests and T20Is against Pakistan, nor for the ongoing visit of Australia, and Holding – the former West Indies fast bowler and vocal advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement – dismissed as “lame” the reasons given by both England and Australia.
“All over the world it was no longer a black versus white thing, it was a matter of humanity coming together and deciding ‘listen, we need everyone to be treated equally’,” Holding told Sky.
“So for Pakistan and England not to then take that signal … the ECB came out with a lame statement as far as I’m concerned, and I didn’t hear anything at all about Pakistan, neither the players, nor the board.”
Speaking about the movement ahead of Australia’s tour, Aaron Finch, the captain, said that “education around it is more important than the protest”.
“We are really proud to play a game where it is celebrated all around the world and anyone can play it,” Finch said. “It doesn’t matter what race, what religion, what nationality you are from. Cricket is a game for everyone and I am really proud about that.”
Holding, however, was unimpressed. “Now Australia come here and I see another lame statement from the Australia captain who is saying that he and the England captain have spoken and they decided not to take a knee.
“I would hope that anyone who gets involved in something like this [does it] because they want to get involved,” he added. “So I would hope that people who are joining in, and are still willing to accept that things need to change and need to send a signal, will voluntarily do what they think is right.”
In response to the criticism, the ECB reaffirmed its “huge respect” for Holding’s views, added that it was committed to a philosophy of “long-term and sustainable change” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
That process that has been driven by the chief executive, Tom Harrison, who admitted in an interview in July that the board had been forced to face up to some “uncomfortable truths” in announcing a range of measures to diversify the sport.
“Our response to the Black Lives Matter debate, has been to view the issue alongside the whole inclusion and diversity space,” said the ECB in statement, “to ensure that long-term and sustainable change happens for all communities who are not treated equally. We remain committed to this philosophy.
“Our refreshed inclusion and diversity strategy, published at the start of the West Indies series, commits to several comprehensive initiatives that focus on eliminating discrimination from all areas of cricket.
“England’s men’s and women’s players all remain committed to using their reach and influence to keep promoting inclusion and diversity in perpetuity, for the betterment of cricket and sport. We understand the importance of symbolism, and its power to keep an issue high on the agenda, our goal is to ensure we deliver both reach and change.
“The ECB’s work is ongoing in this space, alongside all of our partners across the game. We will continue to update, share our progress and be accountable for driving critical change for all those who do not currently feel as if cricket is a game for them.”