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Essex defend not naming employees guilty of historical racist abuse

Essex chief executive John Stephenson has defended the decision not to publicly name those found guilty of historical racism offences at the club, saying: “There was no other way.”

Stephenson also admitted the prospect of the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) imposing further sanctions on Essex this summer – including a possible points deduction ­– was “a worry”.

Essex were fined £50,000 two years ago after pleading guilty to the charge that former chair John Faragher used the offensive term “n***** in the woodpile” during a board meeting in February 2017. Faragher has repeatedly denied the accusation.

Stephenson, who joined the club in 2021, was praised by cricket authorities for doing “all within his power” to take internal action on the matter.

Essex subsequently commissioned an independent report in November 2021 by Katharine Newton KC after three former players – Jahid Ahmed, Maurice Chambers and Zoheb Sharif – spoke out about being subject to discrimination at the club.

A summary of that report was published last December and found that reference to players’ ethnic, racial and religious origins was “entirely normalised and tolerated” within the dressing-room between the mid-1990s until around 2013.

Essex have punished those the report ruled were guilty of racist and/or discriminatory behaviour internally without naming them publicly. Most have left the club but a handful remain.

The full Newton report has been submitted to the ECB-affiliated but independent cricket regulator, who are concluding their own investigation before a decision is made on whether to impose sanctions on Essex or not.

The decision to not name names in the report summary has been criticised by some. Yet Stephenson insists it was the only option available.

Asked whether the full report and the names of the victims – widely known because the players have spoken out in the media – witnesses and perpetrators would ever be released, he said: “No that won’t be because of data protection and welfare of people.

“We took a lot of advice and we published a summary report that was anonymised. There was no other way of doing it, unfortunately. We exhausted every possibility.

“Obviously, we’ve got to think about the effect on people. So I think the ECB will respect that as well.”

Essex (Photo: Getty)

Yorkshire were deducted 48 County Championship points last year following an investigation into widespread racism at the club that came to light after former player Azeem Rafiq spoke out.

They were also fined £400,000, with £300,000 suspended for two years.

Most observers would strongly argue Essex dealt with their own claims of historic racism in a far more timely and transparent manner than Yorkshire. Yet the risk of sanctions remains.

“It is a worry, definitely,” Stephenson said. “The cricket regulator are looking into historic allegations into racial discrimination. We’re waiting for the outcome of their investigation. We have done everything we can to give them all the information they need.

“They’ve received Katharine Newton’s full report so they have all that evidence that took two years to compile at great expense.

“We’ve been open and transparent throughout the process. We’ve dealt with the victims and also the perpetrators. We feel, and I think, the ECB also feel we’ve done everything we possibly can to deal with all of that. So we’re waiting for the ECB to determine what they’re going to do. They’ve got to conclude their investigation then decide whether they are going to charge the club and what sanctions will come out of that, if any.

“We’ll go through that process hopefully by the end of the summer, sometime during the summer. I don’t know. It’s out of our hands.”

When contacted by i, the cricket regulator said: “The investigation into the allegations is ongoing and will be concluded as soon as possible. We are however not able to provide any comment on ongoing cases.”

Essex are also facing another possible points deduction after Feroze Khushi’s bat failed an on-field dimensions check during a County Championship match against Nottinghamshire earlier this month. The maximum Essex could be punished is 16 points. Durham were docked 10 in 2022 for a similar offence.

“The regulator have charged us,” Stephenson said.

“We haven’t admitted the charge and are responding. I’m not too sure what the outcome will be. Fingers crossed we won’t get any sanction but we’ll put up a strong defence.”

Stephenson also spoke about the proposed privatisation of the Hundred that would see the ECB sell off 49 per cent stakes in each of the eight host teams. The move could net English cricket a windfall of more than £400m.

Essex are one of the 11 non-host clubs who agreed to continue on the “direction of travel” with private investment earlier this month. Each could net around £22m but there is still some way to go to ensure agreement on any deal.

Under the proposed terms of the sell-off, which will be managed by Raine, the US bank who brokered the deal to sell Chelsea to Todd Boehly, the eight host teams would retain a 51 per cent ownership stake they could sell on at a future date.

Yet the details have yet to be finalised.

“As a collective of non-hosts we’ve partly approved moving onto the next stage,” Stephenson said. “We’ve agreed there should be private investment in the Hundred. We understand it’s an opportunity for the game.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help everyone’s finances, especially those that are not hosting 100-ball matches. But when you are gifting 51 per cent of the team to a host that’s a significant windfall, and we’ve agreed that should happen. But also the non-hosts need just need to be happy it’s a fair outcome.

“The proposals we’re currently looking at in terms of capital distribution from the teams probably need a little bit more work. Then there’s the other element to it which is any of the dividend over the next four years that comes out of the Hundred – what that looks like – because that could really help us keep the business viable for the next few years.”

Essex, one of eight counties who have been awarded a tier one team in the revamped women’s professional structure next year, have also not ruled out one day joining the Hundred.

“That was quite a significant step forward for the club to come into that big eight [of Hundred host clubs],” Stephenson said.

“So we would never lose the ambition to become part of that expansion. We’re ambitious in that regard.”

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