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ECB faces calls for inquiry into lack of non-white umpires

Board under scrutiny as former official John Holder claims of 'years of racism' in appointments

George Dobell
George Dobell
Umpires Steve Bucknor and John Holder check the light  •  PA Photos

Umpires Steve Bucknor and John Holder check the light  •  PA Photos

Former Test umpire John Holder is among those calling for an independent inquiry into the lack of non-white match officials in English cricket.
While Holder enjoyed almost three decades as a professional umpire, he is concerned that no non-white umpires have been appointed to the first-class list since 1992. He also claims there has never been a non-white Pitch Liaison Officer, Cricket Liaison Officer, Match Referee, Umpires' Mentor or Umpires' Coach.
In partnership with Ismail Dawood, the former county player whose career in umpiring stalled when he could not gain promotion, Holder is now accusing the ECB of "years of racism" and calling for an independent QC-led investigation and an investigation from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
While the pair have shared many of their concerns with ECB officials, they say they have "no faith in the ECB handling of complaints" and have a dossier containing "evidence of deliberate obstruction and interference" in the handling of those complaints.
ESPNcricinfo understands that a senior member of the ECB's staff was recently suspended following claims of racial discrimination in connection with this issue. It is believed the employee, who we have chosen not to name, was cleared of wrong-doing and is expected to return to work shortly.
Vanburn Holder, who retired at the end of the 2010 season, was the last non-white umpire on the ECB's first-class list. He was also the last appointed to that list in 1992. While numerous other non-white candidates have expressed an interest in the profession - including high-profile figures such as Devon Malcolm - none have progressed.
"I've lived in England for 56 years," John Holder told ESPNcricinfo. "And I can tell you, hand on heart, I have never experienced racism before. But when you look at these figures, when you understand what is going on, it is hard to reach any other conclusion.
"When I stopped working for the ICC, I contacted the ECB to offer my services to mentor umpires. I didn't even get a reply. Instead, ex-players, some of whom have never stood as umpires, were appointed to the role. That is ludicrous. It's like employing someone who can't drive to be a driving instructor.
"I'd have had no chance if I was looking to start a career as an umpire today. If Devon Malcolm, who is not only a fine cricketer but an exceptional man, cannot progress, what chance would I have had?
"My suspicion is that there has been a definite policy of only employing whites for this position. There needs to be a transparent policy related to selecting, training and mentoring umpires, which presently does not exist."
Dawood, meanwhile, was described as a "sound, technical umpire" in his performance appraisal but was told that consideration also had to "made about who best fits in". Dawood's final year on the ECB's reserve list was 2014.
"The glass ceiling is incredibly low for BAME individuals, with systematic racism at the heart," Dawood says in a statement to be released shortly. "I feel I have encountered racial discrimination, dishonesty and misinformation, cronyism, bullying, all which is deep rooted in the organisation. It was an isolating place for a person from a BAME background.
"The language I have heard over the years has been horrendous, words such as P**is, C**ns, N***ers featured from individuals attached to the ECB. Some of this language was used in front of Senior ECB managers, which I found extremely disturbing. Having worked in different progressive sectors to cricket, I feel the ECB is the last colonial outpost. It is archaic and any change is mere marketing rhetoric."
While unaware of being named in the statement, Malcolm supported the call for an independent inquiry.
"It's true that I did express an interest in umpiring," Malcolm told ESPNcricinfo. "I love cricket and I love watching cricket. I did a bit of umpiring and it turned out I was pretty good.
"But I was basically told 'I wouldn't bother if I was you'. It was quite a knock-back at the time. I felt there was no chance. A few years later, I had another go and I passed my Level One exams. But if my initial enquiry had met with a more positive response, I'd be well on my way by now.
"We all know the lack of black players and coaches needs to be addressed. So yes, I'd support the calls for an enquiry. But it really would have to be independent."
The ECB, having been sent a draft of this piece, responded to ESPNcricinfo with a statement. It read: "Today's group of professional umpires don't reflect the diverse ECB we are determined to be. We want to see more BAME representation among our officials, and recognise we still have a long way to go as a game to achieve this.
"Earlier this year we commissioned a full independent employment investigation into allegations made against an individual, and while these were not upheld, the investigation did identify areas where we need to be better and do more to be inclusive and diverse.
"The ECB has now commissioned a review, with Board oversight, to look at how we can reform our approach to managing Match Officials. This will set out actions as to how we can improve our systems and processes to increase the diversity of umpiring, inspire the next generation of umpires and match referees, have a world class umpiring programme and ensure a culture of inclusivity and fairness throughout the umpiring system."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo