Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, says that the "earthquake" of revelations surrounding institutional racism in English cricket could prove to be the catalyst for long-overdue change within the sport, as the board on Friday unveiled its five-point action plan in response to the crisis.
The measures outlined include the adoption of a game-wide approach to dealing with complaints of racism, and a full review of dressing-room culture at international and domestic level, as Harrison acknowledged that, with a game-wide fan-base in the region of 11 million people in England and Wales, "we don't yet have a sport which represents all [communities]" and that "we risk losing these people unless we address this situation urgently".
"It feels like an earthquake has hit us," Harrison admitted during his first media briefing since last week's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing in Westminster. Azeem Rafiq's appearance before the committee followed Yorkshire's botched handling of a report into his allegations of institutional racism at the club and sparked a number of other players to speak out about abuse they had suffered at other clubs.
"The last few weeks have been very, very tough for cricket," Harrison said. "Our game has been portrayed in the worst possible way in the world's media, and testimony from others has revealed serious issues which we've collectively not dealt with as a game for many decades, as well as more recently.
"What we're trying to get to grips with now is it's a collective response from the game coming together to work out what we're going to do about this very serious situation that we face. Last Friday was that moment where we came together as a collective, the whole game.
"Frankly, it sometimes takes an earthquake like this to provide the kind of courage that we've seen from Azeem Rafiq in particular, but others too," Harrison added. "It's provided the opportunity to accelerate years and years of change in a very quick period of time. Perhaps this has been the shock that will enable us to bring this game together once and for all. And I don't mean that as the game as we see it now, but the game which has got 11 million fans who want to be part of it."
Harrison's own position within the ECB had come under scrutiny going into last week's meeting, but he reiterated his belief that he has the "backing of the game", as he pledged to do everything in his power to drive through the changes outlined in the action plan.
"I am so committed to sorting this issue with the game," Harrison said. "We've come up with some significant action as a result of what's happened. I understand I have the backing of the game and I'm very motivated to make sure that we provide a welcoming environment across our sport for everybody. That is that is something I've felt passionately about, since the moment I walked into this job. I'm not going to walk away from that now."
In addition to the plan, the ECB has also committed to £25 million in funding over five years to support Ethnicity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) actions and the formation of a new anti-discrimination unit within six months, as well as setting EDI minimum standards for all venues with the power to withhold funding if those standards are not met.
Also included is a commitment to conduct a full-scale review into the detection, enforcement, and sanctions against discriminatory and abusive crowd behaviour at all professional cricket grounds before the 2022 season as well as to "best practice governance" with targets for Board diversity of 30% female and locally representative ethnicity by April 2022. Every senior executive employed across the game will also have personal EDI objectives as part of their annual performance targets.
The plan was developed in the wake of the Rafiq racism scandal and following a crisis meeting a week ago involving the ECB, MCC, Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) and the 18 first-class counties, among other organisations.
The five target areas are: understanding and educating more; addressing dressing-room culture; removing barriers in talent pathways; creating welcoming environments for all and publishing localised action plans on a six-month deadline.
Under those headings, the plan lists 12 courses of action including "adoption within three months of a standardised approach to reporting, investigating, and responding to complaints, allegations, and whistleblowing across the game"; "a full review of dressing-room culture in all men's and women's professional teams, both domestic and international"; and "action to aid progress into professional teams of people from diverse backgrounds (especially South Asian, Black and less privileged youngsters)".
Responding to the threat last week from the sports minister, Nigel Huddlestone, that the UK government could see fit to appoint an independent regulator if the ECB fails "to get its house in order", Harrison acknowledged that a governance review was overdue, and that the ECB would "have to have a very good reason" not to comply with such recommendations if they were forthcoming.
A meeting was held on Thursday with county chairs to discuss the ECB's dual role of regulator and national governing body, and Harrison added that the same conversation would need to be had with the wider game in due course.
"This reflects the changing role of the ECB and the broadening role of the governing body over recent years," he said. "We haven't done a governance review since 2017, when we introduced the independent board, so I think it's the right time for us now to go back as a collective, and work out whether we have got the right governance structures, given the pressures and the uniquely different roles that ECB plays now as a major sport, with the multiple hats that we have to wear while overseeing the game."
Barry O'Brien, ECB Interim Chair, said: ''There is no doubt this is a critical moment for cricket. After our all-game meeting last week, we said we must rise to the challenge and respond with one voice.
"We have now set out a series of game-wide commitments so that cricket can start to make the transformation that we know is needed. Change is required as a matter of urgency, but we also recognise that sustained action is required over months and years to achieve fundamental and long-lasting progress. This must begin today."