Tom Harrison: ECB chief fights for his job after ‘train wreck’ handling of Azeem Rafiq racism scandal
It will be judgement day for Tom Harrison when the chief executive meets with the England & Wales Cricket Board’s 41 members on Friday morning to discuss the handling of the Yorkshire racism scandal.
Pressure is mounting on Harrison after his performance before a department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee on Tuesday that was described by one senior county executive as a “train wreck”.
In the face of growing anger over his handling of the scandal that has rocked cricket, Harrison could face calls to resign at the game-wide meeting at The Oval that will include the 18 first-class counties, the national counties and MCC.
Harrison needs no reminder of how precarious his position is. Only last month ECB chair Ian Watmore was ousted after he lost the confidence of the counties following a bruising board meeting.
<figure class="inews__shortcode-readmore"> <div class="inews__shortcode-readmore__image"> <img src="https://i.inews.co.uk/content/uploads/2021/11/PRI_210727517-155x155.jpg" height="84" width="84" alt="Read More - Featured Image"> </div> <div class="inews__shortcode-readmore__text"> <h4>Read More</h4> <a href="https://inews.co.uk/sport/cricket/azeem-rafiq-yorkshire-racism-scandal-nottinghamshire-leicestershire-ecb-ashes-1306165">Azeem Rafiq: Yorkshire racism scandal set to start a winter of pain for English cricket as more come forward</a> </div> </figure>
Yet the fact the ECB are currently without a full-time chair may work in Harrison’s favour in the short term and provide him with a stay of execution.
However, the political pressure on the ECB has been cranked up so much in recent days that it may only be a matter of time before he is forced out.
Harrison’s unimpressive performance in front of MPs on Tuesday was in stark contrast to the heartbreaking and shocking testimony given by Azeem Rafiq earlier in the day that had laid bare the institutional racism at the heart of English cricket.
Indeed, the fact the government has now put the ECB on notice about their response to the crisis is an indictment of just how little confidence Harrison’s words this week gave them that he is the man to initiate the change the sport needs.
<figure class="inews__shortcode-readmore"> <div class="inews__shortcode-readmore__image"> <img src="https://i.inews.co.uk/content/uploads/2021/11/PRI_210533883-1-155x155.jpg" height="84" width="84" alt="Read More - Featured Image"> </div> <div class="inews__shortcode-readmore__text"> <h4>Read More</h4> <a href="https://inews.co.uk/sport/cricket/azeem-rafiq-racism-experience-cricket-familiar-british-asian-1304955">Ask any British Asian and Azeem Rafiq’s experience of racism will sound horribly familiar</a> </div> </figure>
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston on Thursday warned: “If they [the ECB] don’t get their act together, then we have the nuclear option of legislating in order to bring in potentially an independent regulator.
“Tom Harrison has promised me with every fibre of his being he will act. He knows and I know we will judge them on their deeds, not their words. If they fail to act appropriately, we will not hesitate to act appropriately.”
Later in the day, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg weighed in, saying the racism scandal was “a matter of shame to all cricket lovers” before adding: “The ECB has a strong responsibility to ensure this is stamped out and dealt with much more thoroughly than it has so far.”
The fact that Rees-Mogg, a man who apologised for using a racial slur against Asians in Parliament only in July, has now added his voice to the debate is humiliating for the ECB and Harrison.
<figure class="inews__shortcode-readmore"> <div class="inews__shortcode-readmore__image"> <img src="https://i.inews.co.uk/content/uploads/2021/11/PRI_210578206-155x155.jpg" height="84" width="84" alt="Read More - Featured Image"> </div> <div class="inews__shortcode-readmore__text"> <h4>Read More</h4> <a href="https://inews.co.uk/sport/cricket/azeem-rafiq-racism-yorkshire-cricket-row-allegations-who-accused-gary-ballance-david-lloyd-1303830">Who has Azeem Rafiq accused of racism? Yorkshire cricket row allegations, from David Lloyd to Gary Ballance</a> </div> </figure>
It is also worth remembering that Harrison has now been asked to appear before DCMS committees three times in the past two years.
The first of those occasions, in November 2019, saw him grilled by MPs over plans for the Hundred, a venture that started this summer and that many in the sport still fear will irreparably damage the county game.
Indeed, residual resentment over the Hundred still lingers from counties who feel they were strong-armed into backing the new competition. It may now come back to bite Harrison.
Yet it is the ECB’s handling of the current crisis that Harrison will ultimately be judged on.
Too many mistakes have already been made, including the ECB ignoring calls from Rafiq to intervene earlier in a case that he has admitted led him to the brink of suicide last year.
<figure class="inews__shortcode-readmore"> <div class="inews__shortcode-readmore__image"> <img src="https://i.inews.co.uk/content/uploads/2021/11/PRI_210592301-155x155.jpg" height="84" width="84" alt="Read More - Featured Image"> </div> <div class="inews__shortcode-readmore__text"> <h4>Read More</h4> <a href="https://inews.co.uk/sport/cricket/azeem-rafiq-racism-allegations-t-shirt-tokenism-english-cricket-1304219">Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations: The time for T-shirt tokenism is over – cricket needs real change</a> </div> </figure>
Indeed, the decision to initially allow Yorkshire to essentially investigate themselves over Rafiq’s allegations was a mistake that might have been a resignation matter for many other administrators.
The fact the ECB only intervened with meaningful sanctions against Yorkshire once sponsors started abandoning the club earlier this month was also not a great look for a man in Harrison who many in the game accuse of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
‘Yorkshire is the most toxic brand in world sport’
By Richard Edwards
Yorkshire can kiss goodbye to commercial revenue for at least the next 12 months – and maybe longer, as sponsors continue to fall out of love with a fallen idol.
That’s the warning from one of the country’s leading sports business advisers, Tim Crow.
He tells i that Yorkshire’s reputational plunge, as a result of their handling of Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations, is unparalleled in the modern sporting world and will be used in future as a model of how not to handle a crisis. In the short-term, though, he believes that the glacial pace of reform at the county and their perceived heel-dragging over critical decisions – which has continued to be witnessed this week following Rafiq’s testimony to the DCMS Committee on Tuesday – has completed their transformation into a brand that no-one has any desire to be associated with.
“I can’t think of anything remotely similar in terms of how quickly this has unfolded and how badly it has gone,” he says.
“Quite clearly there is going to be some ongoing fallout from the case because everything is far from being resolved. There’s a real question of what happens at Headingley next year and in the years to come. In terms of sources of income, I think you can write off next year in terms of direct sponsorship.
“Most sponsors have gone and those who haven’t have suspended their involvement. That obviously is cut and dry. This is the time of year when companies are making decisions about next year so in that respect the timing could not be worse for Yorkshire.
“You can call next season a write-off when it comes to commercial revenues. Clearly there is a relationship with [ex-England and Wales Cricket Board and Yorkshire chairman] Colin Graves and his Trust, who are a substantial creditor but that’s one source. Then there’s the ECB, although it remains to be seen what they will do.”
After sponsors have run for the hills, the challenge facing Yorkshire is a steep one. At present Yorkshire are suspended from hosting international cricket at Headingley and further financial sanctions haven’t been ruled out – leaving the county on a financial precipice.
“Yorkshire are too big to be allowed to fail – it’s a Test-match ground and it stages major matches, which is important,” he says. “It’s also a venue for one of the Hundred teams. It can’t be allowed to fail but it’s difficult to see how it can operate on anything close to what it was, in the short-term and even in the medium-term.”
Plus: How Yorkshire have become the ‘most toxic brand in world sport’ and a model of how not to handle a crisis