John Holder has claimed the ECB are “more interested in protecting their reputation than dealing with the issues” after it emerged they had hired an expert in reputational damage to counter allegations of institutional racism.
Holder, the former international umpire, has announced that he and fellow former umpire Ismail Dawood are attempting to sue to ECB for racial discrimination. They have also called for an independent inquiry into the lack of non-white match officials in English cricket.
Now it has emerged that the ECB are utilising the skills of Julian Pike, a high-profile lawyer from the London firm Farrer & Co, to advise them on the case. Pike is renowned as an expert in reputation management who, according to the Farrer & Co website, advises organisations which “could be at risk of reputational harm”. He previously defended News International against claims of phone hacking.
But while Farrer & Co may have a lofty reputation – members of the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth II, are among their clients – their usage has left Holder and Dawood underwhelmed. Instead they feel it suggests the ECB are more focused on protecting their image rather than demonstrating a commitment to greater equality and diversity in future.
“I think the ECB should face the issues and ensure lessons are learned,” Holder told ESPNcricinfo. “Instead, it seems they are more interested in protecting their reputation than dealing with those issues.”
Dawood would appear to agree.
“Are the ECB focused on ensuring there is more equality and diversity in the game?” he asked ESPNcricinfo rhetorically. “Or are they focused on brushing their issues under the carpet in the hope of ensuring their broadcasters and sponsors don’t realise the severity of the problem?
“We think they should be looking to employ more people from Black and Asian backgrounds. Instead, they’ve spent a lot of money employing a lawyer who deals in reputational damage. That is, I think, telling.”
Pike also made the news when he was cleared of wrongdoing by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in a high-profile incident that was concluded in 2017.
While he admitted to instructing a private investigator to carry out surveillance of two lawyers acting against News International in the phone-hacking scandal, the tribunal found he had not acted without justification or without placing limits on the scope of any investigations. He was, however, ordered to £20,000 in costs after the tribunal concluded it was “repugnant” that solicitors should carry out surveillance on other lawyers.
The ECB point out that Pike is also an expert in sports governance, safeguarding and integrity, with a long history of working with national governing bodies.
They also insist he has been utilised, in this context, in an attempt to arrange mediation with Dawood and Holder in an attempt to fully understand their grievances and find solutions.
Attempts to arrange mediation have so far proved unsuccessful. Holder and Dawood’s representatives rejected a suggestion that Raj Parker, the recommendation of the independent organisation Sports Resolutions, lead the mediation on the basis that he had previously worked at the same firm of solicitors as the ECB’s deputy chair, Barry O’Brien.
The ECB, meanwhile, have rejected Holder and Dawood’s suggestion that Lord Peter Hain lead the mediation process, on the grounds that he was “not qualified” as a mediator. Hain has previously held roles including Secretary Of State for Work and Pensions, and Secretary Of State for Northern Ireland. In the latter role, he played a key role in negotiating a historic power-sharing agreement.
Since ESPNcricinfo revealed details of the lack of inclusivity in umpiring in England and Wales, the ECB have announced several measures aimed at improving diversity, including a commitment to ensure that a minimum of 15 percent of umpires on the national panel (the panel operating at county second XI and National County level) are from a Black and minority ethnic (BAME) background by the end of 2021. At present the figure is 8 percent.
In addition, the ECB are to establish a mentoring programme to encourage umpires from a BAME background, and will ensure BAME representation on all umpire selection panels.
They have also formed a Commission for Equality, designed to assess evidence of inequality and discrimination; a Forum for Race, designed to allow a confidential mechanism for people to report their experiences of exclusion in the game, and an Equality Code of Conduct, which is designed to focus minds on the issue, standardise expectations across the game and enable the speedy sanctioning of discriminatory behaviour. It is to be introduced ahead of the 2021 season.
However, the board was beset with allegations of racial discrimination throughout much of 2020. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, a succession of former players detailed their experiences of exclusion within the game, with Holder and Dawood joining Azeem Rafiq in launching legal action.
Holder, at least, is unimpressed by the ECB’s talk of inclusivity. “I’ve heard all this before,” he says. “The ECB have made grand statements like this for years. I remember Tim Lamb [the former ECB chief executive] promising racial equality in cricket in 1999.
“But it’s proven to be nothing but talk. Nothing changed. If anything, things have got worse. To be blunt, I just don’t trust them anymore.”
An ECB spokesman told ESPNcricinfo: “The actions we have outlined over recent months demonstrate our continued commitment to ensuring cricket is an inclusive and diverse sport. We take very seriously the allegations that have been raised by John Holder and Ismail Dawood and over the past months have been trying to meet with them both in order that we can listen to their experiences, so as to better inform our future approach to recruiting and developing umpires and match officials. We will continue in our attempts to do so.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo