Former England player Ebony Rainford-Brent says Middlesex chairman Mike O’Farrell’s comments on black and South Asian interest in cricket are “painful” and “outdated”.
O’Farrell was speaking at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee hearing into how cricket plans to tackle racism in the sport.
He said that football and rugby become “much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community” and that cricket was sometimes “secondary” to education for young South Asian players.
Rainford-Brent said such “outdated views” were “exactly” why cricket was under pressure to tackle issues of diversity and inclusion following former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq’s account of racism in the sport.
A parliamentary report earlier this month recommended the government should limit public funding for cricket unless there was “continuous, demonstrable progress” on eradicating “deep-seated racism”.
Rafiq, who in November told the DCMS select committee that English cricket was “institutionally racist”, said O’Farrell’s comments “confirmed what an endemic problem the game has”.
When asked about Middlesex’s record on diversity and inclusion, O’Farrell said that 57% of their players under the age of 17 came from “culturally diverse backgrounds”.
He said that was “more difficult” to maintain at higher levels and particularly in the academy, for “several reasons”.
Going into those reasons, O’Farrell claimed that “the football and rugby worlds become much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community” at that age.
He added: “In terms of the South Asian community, there is a moment where we’re finding that they do not want necessarily to commit the same time that is necessary to go to the next step because they prefer – not always saying they do it – they sometimes prefer to go into other educational fields and then cricket becomes secondary.
“Part of that is because it’s a rather more time-consuming sport than some others so we’re finding that’s difficult.”
He said that the situation was “changing” with Twenty20 and one-day cricket and that because there was “much more choice and variation in the game” young South Asian men and women were “finding this a much more attractive sport”.
He added: “We are moving it forward – it’s not as fast as we’d like it to and we’re trying to make as many opportunities as we can.”
Rainford-Brent said on social media that “unfortunately the decision-makers hold on to these myths” and that “the game deserves better”.
“Just painful,” she added.
In 2018, South Asian players represented 30% of recreational players but only 4% of first-class county players.
The proportion of recreational players who are South Asian has since dropped to 28% but the ECB says there has been an increase in South Asian players in county academies, from 11% in 2018 to 17% in 2019-20.
Rainford-Brent helped found Surrey’s African Caribbean Engagement Programme (ACE) to address a 75% decline in cricket participation by members of the black community over the past 25 years.
She said: “The interest is there the young people just need the right offer.”
Rafiq also called O’Farrell’s comments “painful” and said they showed “how far removed from reality these people are”.
BBC Sport has approached Middlesex for comment.