George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
John Holder has dismissed ECB comments claiming he has withdrawn his claim of racial discrimination against them as "disingenuous" and vowed to never work for the organisation again.
Holder and Ismail Dawood had launched a legal challenge against the ECB suggesting that their careers as umpires had been adversely affected by institutional racism at the ECB.
But with the law stating that any such claim has to be brought within three months of the termination of employment, Holder and Dawood were always unlikely to prevail. Dawood was last on the ECB's reserve umpire list in 2014; Holder's last game was in 2009. They reasoned, however, that by bringing the case they could highlight the issues they had faced and hoped they may win an exemption on the basis of public interest.
At a mediation meeting a week ago, offered by the ECB at the umpires' request, it is understood the ECB offered an acknowledgement that they had fallen short of the standards they set themselves. They stopped short of an apology, however, and no compensation was offered. Both Holder and Dawood rejected the "acknowledgement" and what they described as the "token roles" they were offered and declined to sign any non-disclosure agreement.
Holder and Dawood subsequently withdrew their employment claim as pursuing it further could have exposed them to a claim for costs from the ECB. Their claim to the Equality and Human Rights Commission remains open, however, and ECB comments made to the BBC which they believe misrepresented the situation have left them incensed. Indeed, it is understood Holder emailed Neil Snowball, the managing director of county cricket, and withdrew his offer of working with the ECB.
The comments from the ECB made to the BBC were: "The ECB has been notified that John Holder and Ismail Dawood have withdrawn their employment claims against the ECB without payment of compensation or costs. The ECB is committed to a world-class diverse and inclusive officiating system, with opportunities for all. The ECB appreciates Mr Holder and Mr Dawood's engagement in addressing these matters, and will now discuss with Mr Holder his interest in contributing to its ongoing review of officiating."
Holder told ESPNcricinfo: "Our case against the ECB has been beaten on a legal technicality. I haven't withdrawn any of the claims I made.
"The tone of the ECB's statement would give the uninvolved reader the impression that we have accepted their version of events and backed down. This is not the case at all. We remain convinced that the ECB is institutionally racist.
"Having read that statement, I knew I couldn't work with these people any more. There is no trust. They aren't looking to learn from my experiences; they are looking to silence me and give the impression that things have been resolved. That is misleading and disingenuous."
Dawood was equally unimpressed. "We were offered token roles to work with Neil Snowball at the ECB which were an insult to us and the many others that have suffered at the hands of the ECB," he told ESPNcricinfo.
"Tom Harrison talks about a zero tolerance attitude towards racism while he courts the press and yet the ECB have acknowledged they have fallen below their own standards in this regard. Where is the accountability? It's a non-existent word at the ECB."
The ECB issued a statement on Friday, which said: "We do not agree with the accusation that the ECB is institutionally racist, but we do recognise that the stories and insight, shared by many within cricket in the last 12 months, reflect that as a sport we need to do more to ensure that everyone feels welcome.
"We are in the process of undertaking an independent review of officiating and are committed to acting on its findings to ensure that the game is open and accessible. We have invited John and Ismail to share their experiences as part of that process.
"The review is one of a number of initiatives including the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket that we have put in place to explore issues that exist around racism and equality and to tackle a number of topics that people have raised in the past 12 months.
"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."
Former Yorkshire spinner Azeem Rafiq also alleged "institutional racism" at the county, who have been carrying out an investigation into the claims. The ECB founded an independent commission for equity in cricket, designed to examine issues relating to race and equity, in November.
The latest comments from Holder and Dawood come just two days after England and New Zealand players stood in a 'moment of unity' before the start of play in the first Test at Lord's with England players wearing training T-shirts which denounced various forms of discrimination.
Later on Wednesday, debutant England seamer Ollie Robinson issued an apology after historic tweets he posted as a teenager in 2012 and 2013 emerged, which he acknowledged were "racist and sexist" in nature. The ECB committed to launching a full investigation while also facing calls to increase efforts to assess players' social media history.