Breaking Boundaries: What we’ve learnt about cricket and social cohesion


Sporting Equals, the Youth Sport Trust and Spirit of 2012 have submitted evidence to the Independent Commission on Equity in Cricket (ICEC).  Launched in March 2021 in response to evidence of pervasive racism and discrimination in the sport, ICEC presents an opportunity to take real action to improve the experiences of people who love cricket – but do not always feel welcome in the official game. We're sharing lessons from Breaking Boundaries, a four-year project working in five cities in England to use cricket and physical activity to bridge divides between people from different backgrounds.

Our evidence encourages the ECB and its cricket clubs and foundations to:

  • Work with community partners: We've worked with some fantastic community partners on Breaking Boundaries, such as Aik Saath in Slough and St Edmund's Church and the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester . These lynchpin organisations have the expertise and relationships that we need in order to bring people together through physical activity.  The organisations – which include schools, community hubs and faith centres - will also reap the benefits of partnership working well beyond the project itself. 

 

  • Take time to understand the history of relationships between people from different communities, and between communities and local institutions. Local authority input has been key to Breaking Boundaries – with apprentices on the programme being hosted by, and learning from, the councils' cohesion and physical activity teams. But not everyone has a positive view of their local council, and so building trusting relationships between project leads and local organisations takes a long time. Likewise, if a community group has had a negative experience with a cricket club or foundation before, however thoughtful the new initiative, it will take time and effort to repair that damage.

 

  • Ensure that activities build meaningful social mixing opportunities: A cricket match itself is not enough to bring people together, particularly if you have groups travelling to the grounds separately, playing a competitive match against each other and going home. All of our sessions include social time – ideally with food - before and after the sport, focus on games and activities more often than formal matches, and allow whole families to mix together across generations, rather than concentrating just on children. 

 

  • Give genuine leadership opportunities to young people from all backgrounds: Breaking Boundaries puts young people in the lead at all levels, with an apprentice in each city coordinating the programme, and young community champions who can shape the activities (and apply for funding to do put them on!) In our evidence, we share findings from a youth consultation conducted after Azeem Rafiq's select committee evidence, in which young participants shared their views about what needs to change.

 

  • Be proactive and comprehensive when it comes to creating an inclusive environment – and act quickly to deal with negative incidents of racism.  We provided 'Making Equals' training to all of our apprentices and young participants. The training acts as a mechanism to challenge thoughts and tackle unconscious bias alongside supporting people to engage with people who they would otherwise not engage with. We had a comprehensive safeguarding policy in place, and ensured our community partners had the same.  Our youth consultation found that young people's biggest concern in reporting incidents that they had witnessed in sport in general was that they would not be taken seriously, so we wanted to ensure reporting pathways were clear within Breaking Boundaries. It is vital that in reviewing their complaints procedure the ECB think not only about a fair and expedient process, but about clear, open communication. Young people not directly involved in an incident can still be deeply affected by it – but, according to our consultation, witnesses felt that their experiences were often completely overlooked.

 

  • Identify the changes you want to make, and evaluate your progress: We supported the development of the Power of Sport toolkit (developed by Belong, with funding from Spirit of 2012 and Sport England). It contains lots of practical guidance about how sport can be used to create greater social cohesion. Breaking Boundaries is being evaluated by Wavehill and we look forward to sharing more of our research when the programme finishes this autumn.

 

Of course, sport in general, and cricket in particular, does not exist in a bubble, and it cannot 'solve' all of the cohesion and integration challenges in any given area. And it's easy to conclude after the year's news that it is very much part of the problem. But we have also seen time and again how it can be part of the solution – delivered well it has the power to unite people across race, ethnicity, class and generations. The ECB has a real opportunity to take on board these lessons to make the most of cricket's potential to break boundaries. 

You can download our full evidence here.