Lord Botham accused of ‘untruths’ over cricket’s racism report

Cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham leaving the Palace of Westminster after being sworn into House of Lords
Cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham leaving the Palace of Westminster after being sworn into House of Lords

The author of the report on racism in cricket has accused Lord Botham of “untruths” and hit out at the England and Wales Cricket Board for not having the “backbone” to call him out on the issue.

Botham, the Durham chairman and former England all-rounder, claimed the equity report on discrimination in the game was “nonsense” after he disclosed he had thrown the report “on the floor”.

Cindy Butts, chair of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket, took issue with Botham’s comments and the ECB for failing to condemn him. Botham had suggested he had not been given opportunities to contribute to the report, which she claimed was a “blueprint for change”.

“What I would say is Lord Botham has a right to his opinions,” Butts said. “I felt it was important to correct the record on a number of different fronts. Firstly, we did invite Lord Botham to give evidence to us. He didn’t respond. The county in which he chairs, Durham, contributed to our call for written evidence and we thank them for that... So there are a number of untruths that he spoke about the report, but the most disappointing thing for me, I feel, is that Lord Botham is a chair of a first-class cricket county.”

Botham had previously claimed that he was not invited to contribute and did not know anyone who had done so. “I read bits of the report and I just threw it down on the floor in the end because in my eyes, it’s a nonsense,” Botham told Simon Jordan’s Up Front podcast. “It was a complete and utter waste of money that could have been well spent on other things within the game.”

Butts suggested, however, his comments could undermine the “confidence” of “those within the county who may suffer racism, sexism, class-based discrimination”.

“What confidence can they have if they are subject to discrimination, to come forward and be able to talk about their experiences and have confidence that something could be done about it,” she said.

“So I was personally disappointed, not least because he’s a sporting hero of mine. In fact, I would say the impact that Lord Botham had on me as a young working-class woman growing up in Shepherd’s Bush was really quite profound.”

Butts then turned on the ECB, saying she was “disappointed” the governing body “didn’t call out” Botham. “Lord Botham, chair of a first-class cricket county, his words carry weight,” she said. “The ECB didn’t seem fit to come out and actually say, ‘This is wrong’. And I think that not only did they stay quiet, they resisted calls from stakeholders and people who were concerned about Mr Botham’s comments and they chose to stay silent. I think they should have had a moral backbone on this issue.”

The ECB later pushed back on the criticism, saying executives had called Botham after his comments to raise concerns. When asked about Butts’ frustration over Botham’s attempts to “rubbish the work of the ICEC”, Richard Thompson, chair of the ECB, said: “My first response was to phone Lord Botham and question why? And I guess the ECB could have taken one of two views over that. My feeling was that we’re trying to reconcile, we’re trying to move forward and heal. Lord Botham’s entitled to his views. I didn’t agree with them. I made it very clear to him that I didn’t agree with them. But we live in a democracy and he’s allowed to say those things.”

Butts went on to say “I do have confidence in the ECB’s leadership”. “I think it’s right and proper that they are given the opportunity, as new people in at the top of the helm, to make the changes that we recommend,” she added.

“In the event they don’t, then something else should happen. But it’s important to say that all of the indications we’ve had - and we’ve seen some of the evidence in terms of some of the things that they have already introduced - gives me optimism that things will change.”

Lord Botham has been contacted for a response.

Butts’ report took two years to complete and featured the experience of more than 4,000 respondents. Half of them said they had experienced discrimination in cricket in the past five years.

Rafiq’s home attacked again last week

Colin Graves, the returning Yorkshire chairman, also faced attacks from MPs after admitting he had not apologised directly to Azeem Rafiq because he had “plenty of things going on”.

Appearing before a parliamentary hearing, Graves apologised again for racism at the club but admitted he had not phoned chief whistleblower Rafiq to express remorse.

Culture, Media and Sport Committee member John Nicolson, who revealed Rafiq’s family home had come under attack last week, said it was “appalling” that Graves had not called him.

Nicolson expressed dismay in a tense exchange after Graves told him “I just had plenty of things going on around not to pick up the phone to Mr Rafiq”. The SNP MP snapped back: “You were too busy to phone him?”

Graves responded “I didn’t say I was too busy”, but then said, “Fine, if that’s how you see it – I don’t see it like that” when Nicolson then added: “Plenty of things going on and you couldn’t phone him?”

When asked how the 76-year-old could have had “too many things going on to phone him”, Graves said: “I’ve been out of cricket Mr Nicolson since September 2020. I have not been involved with running any form of cricket until I just got back in work with Yorkshire 11 days ago.”

“You didn’t need to be involved in cricket to phone him and to apologise for what had happened under your tenure,” Nicolson responded. When Graves then conceded “Fine, I didn’t do it”, the committee member said: “I don’t know why you’re saying fine. It’s not fine. It’s really not fine. It’s appalling... I just don’t understand why you’ve not phoned him if you’re sincere in your apology.”

Nicolson said earlier that Rafiq, whose claims about Yorkshire plunged English cricket into crisis, had told his team ahead of the hearing that his parents’ home had been targeted in an apparent attempt to intimidate him.

Butts had said earlier that “a lot of concerns” had been raised after Graves’ controversial return as chairman was approved at Headingley this month.

Graves has pledged to rescue the beleaguered county from financial oblivion for a second time - but Rafiq led complaints and urged sponsors to walk away from the club. Some allegations in the Yorkshire racism scandal overlap with Graves’ previous tenure. He had apologised prior to his return to the club over a previous interview in which he implied what had happened was “banter”.

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