How did Yorkshire Cricket Club get to this point?

BLOG: Crisis in cricket - how did Yorkshire Cricket Club get to this point?

 “The entire board needs to change,” was the cry from Julian Knight MP, chair of the Culture, media & sport select committee this morning, amid the resignation of Yorkshire CC chairman Roger Hutton.

Several pundits have been rallying to Roger Hutton’s side to say while he wasn’t effective enough in dealing with the recent concerns raised by Azeem Rafiq, he was viewed as a reformer when joining in early 2020, and was hamstrung by a club culture that didn’t want to change. In effect, Hutton leaving, will change little other than remove the person who might’ve made a positive difference.

What’s left, is a headstrong, behind-the-curve, management group digging themselves deeper into a crisis, which threatens to destroy the entire club. Sponsor after sponsor stepped away within 48 hours. The club has been suspended from hosting England matches by the ECB. The brand has become damaged and toxic following days of media reporting. The classic issues-based crisis which rolls into a full-blown media and organisational crisis, played out on the international media stage. Disaster.

But how could it have been averted?

Without getting too deep into the weeks of the timeline and the racial abuse allegations, it’s worth unpicking this as a case study and a stark warning to all leaders and those running organisations.

Yorkshire C.C.C. knew about these issues, which date back pre-2020 and didn’t act – in other words, more than two years have elapsed where the culture could have changed, apologies issued, procedures for handling racial abuse allegations strengthened and public positioning that any such remarks, have no place at the training ground or in matches.

But as Hutton himself put it, he “experienced a culture that refuses to accept change or challenge.” He wanted the club to evolve but the culture and leadership wouldn’t allow for it. The rot sets in, the complaints grow, those who are affected eventually are so frustrated and angry at the lack of action, they call it out in the media.

On Friday 5th, it was the lead story in the news. Where was the compassion for those affected? Where was the sorry? Not a single player was reprimanded in the so-called spirit of 'friendly banter'. Not just a miss-step. Tone Deaf. 

Why risk issues management is the inoculation against a future crisis

This is no sudden media crisis. It’s been bubbling for years, like most corporate crises do. As types of crisis go, it’s what we describe as a ‘python’, rather than a ‘cobra’. Slow to crush you, because the issues go deep and have long been ignored, where a ‘cobra’ is sudden and may be beyond of your control.

 This crisis in cricket has all the hallmarks of the issues we continually refer to in our training and consultancy sessions, namely:

-       Whistleblowing – there are several ‘out of county’ players now coming forward to report racial abuse.

-       Lack of compliance and monitoring

-       Ignoring external opinions

-       Blame game – the board have settled for a sacrificial lamb in Hutton and pointed the finger at the ECB for not being part of the inquiry. They only have to blame the media next to add insult to injury.

-       Autocratic management – no one in the senior executive is even acknowledging there’s been a race issue among players and refuse to deal with the matter.

While Roger Hutton and non executive board members were keen to acknowledge that the club needed to change and there were faults in the past, tragically, execs like Mark Arthur are more reluctant to accept the club was at any fault, or fully recognise issues needed dealing with swiftly, including unreserved apologies to the likes of Azeem Rafiq.

The best the club has managed externally is a statement from the player at the heart of the comments, Gary Ballance. Nothing from management. Is that leadership?

Visions now percolate in my mind of a stoic, older, white Yorkshireman executive at the club, proudly and boldly stating; “I say what I like and I like what I bloody well sayyy!” It’s as though they’re feeding into their own narrative of the traditional stereotype from this part of England. The wood-panelled, smoky, men-only meeting rooms, where ‘we don’t do any of that PC nonsense’ – you can imagine it, can’t you?

Put simply: a failure to recognise one’s own organisational shortcomings and act in a sensitive, modern, compassionate and appropriate way, is a recipe for lasting reputational damage and a lingering crisis. And I’m sure many are thinking – rightly so, little sympathy here. Sponsors have voted with their feet.

The board is due to appear in front of the culture, media & sport select committee in the coming weeks. I can only guess what a car-crash that’s going to be for them, unless the majority resign beforehand, which is what chair of the committee is calling for.

And rightly. The club is now such a toxic brand that the only way it can recover any credibility and reputation, is for senior executives and most of the board to go. It’s a rare thing to say and to write, because usually it comes down to one or two people leading the organisation. The fallout will lead to the guns swivelling to look at other clubs, and the ECB, the governing body, needs to address racist abuse in a more wide-ranging and robust review. But for now, as the English game’s reputation is tarnished, as my father would’ve said: ‘It’s just not cricket..’ 

Article Author: Dave Mason

Dave is Mentor Media Training's Managing Director. He is a CIPR Accredited Practitioner and regularly trains for the PR industry institute. His extensive career in broadcasting spans 30 years across radio and television. He has coached executives from major public and private sector organisations, as well as the UK Armed Forces/NATO, around the world for the past decade. Dave is respected for his inspiring training, which is supportive and concentrates on fast learning development. A founding presenter and shareholder of Somerset’s Orchard FM, he went on to work extensively in commercial radio around the UK, as well as BBC News, where he was a Correspondent at BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 1 Newsbeat. Dave has been a TV presenter, reporter and producer at ITN, GMTV, (ITV Breakfast), ITV News Westcountry and HTV West. He was one of GMTV’s senior producers for a decade, covering major international, domestic, political and entertainment stories. His roles have included senior news producing and planning, undercover investigations, war reporting and features production. He still broadcasts as a crisis communications pundit on LBC, BBC Radio and is a visiting lecturer at the Universities of Bath Spa, Gloucestershire and the Cardiff School of Journalism. He is the author of 'Handling the Media In Good Times & Bad'.