UK government weighs in on Ollie Robinson's suspension by ECB

Boris Johnson's spokesperson says PM supports Oliver Dowden's 'over the top' comment

George Dobell
George Dobell
Ollie Robinson in pensive mood  •  AFP/Getty Images

Ollie Robinson in pensive mood  •  AFP/Getty Images

The ECB has been accused of going "over the top" in its punishment of Ollie Robinson by a UK government minister. Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS), called on the ECB to think again after it suspended Robinson from international cricket pending a "disciplinary investigation" into tweets he made in 2012 and 2013, comments which were later supported by Boris Johnson, the prime minister.
The tweets, written when Robinson was aged 18 and 19, contained both racist and sexist comments as well as unsavoury references to Madeleine McCann and Gary Speed.
While Mr Dowden, who has been head of the department for DCMS since 2020, accepted the tweets were "offensive and wrong" he urged the ECB to reconsider its course of action.
"Ollie Robinson's tweets were offensive and wrong," Mr Dowden wrote on Twitter. "They are also a decade old and written by a teenager. The teenager is now a man and has rightly apologised. The ECB has gone over the top by suspending him and should think again."
Later on Monday, Mr Johnson's official spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister is supportive of the comments from Oliver Dowden that he made via tweet this morning. As Oliver Dowden set out, these were comments made more than a decade ago [sic] written by someone as a teenager, for which they've rightly apologised."
The ECB declined to comment on Mr Dowden's remarks.
R Ashwin, the India allrounder, also expressed sympathy towards Robinson. While understanding the "negative sentiments" towards Robinson, Ashwin said he felt "genuinely sorry for him being suspended after an impressive start to his Test career".
Ashwin also warned that the suspension was "a strong indication of what the future holds" for a generation brought up on social media.
But it is Mr Dowden's intervention that is most relevant. The ECB has been obliged to work very closely with DCMS over the last couple of years and was reliant upon its acquiescence for ensuring international cricket was played in England in 2020. DCMS was also the body which allowed the second LV= Insurance Test against New Zealand at Edgbaston to be treated as a test event with larger crowds. He clearly has influence and clout.
Robinson admitted he was "embarrassed" and "ashamed" by the tweets, which emerged during the first day of the first Test against New Zealand. He apologised "unreservedly" and said he wanted "to make it clear that I'm not racist and I'm not sexist".
Chris Silverwood, England's head coach, also reflected on the incident after finish of the Lord's Test, reiterating the view that the country's top cricketers can use their profile to "make sure the world is a better place."
"I broke the news to Ollie and to the team as well," Silverwood said. "That's my responsibility.
"He was obviously devastated. He was embarrassed and very remorseful. He apologised whole-heartedly to the dressing room. He came out and apologised to the rest of the world too, which he had to. He had to face up to this. He showed a lot of remorse.
"There is absolutely no place in this game for any form of discrimination whatsoever. It's not what we wanted, that's for sure. And we were all very disappointed in what happened.
"What should have been one of the greatest days of Ollie's career didn't end up well for him. It was disappointing for the group. It was a stark reminder for us all the responsibilities that we hold in the position that we are in.
"The big thing for us all is education. We are all striving to be better, none of us are perfect, and we all need to make sure we are learning all the time. We can make sure the world is a better place. Most importantly, we can work hard to ensure that this great game is inclusive for everybody and there's no form of discrimination whatsoever.
"We can make a difference. We hold positions where we can do that, and continually strive to do that. We all get things wrong at times. It's what we do and how we act. That's where the education comes in.
"The will is there as professional cricketers and staff is to make it an inclusive environment. We need to learn how to do that, and make this game available to everybody."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo