Yorkshire would have gone bust had the ECB not lifted its suspension on Headingley hosting international and major cricket matches, according to the club’s chair, Lord Kamlesh Patel.
Imposed in November following the county’s handling of Azeem Rafiq’s racism scandal, those sanctions were lifted in February under certain provisos. Those included the ability to show a commitment to building a culture of equity, diversity and inclusion, along with a commitment from Yorkshire to identify and tackle historic cases of discrimination.
Also included were the administrative resolutions relating to rule changes and decisions at the club subject to procedural flaws, along with changes to rules regarding the appointment of a new board, including the removal of the powers of the Graves Trust.
Not all of those requirements have been met, and last week Yorkshire were given notice by the ECB that they will be charged, leading to many querying why the third Test between England and New Zealand, which began on Thursday, was allowed to be hosted at Headingley. An ODI against South Africa on 24 July will also take place at the venue.
Speaking in a pre-recorded interview with Test Match Special, which was aired at lunch on day one, Lord Patel said hosting this match was not only necessary for ensuring change at the club, but also for its continued existence.
“In simple terms, yes. I think we would have,” Patel replied, when asked if Yorkshire’s future was at stake. “I don’t think people have realised.
“One must not blame anyone in this. Something very unusual happened in cricket. It was huge. It hit all of the press. The politicians were engaged. It hit the governing body. It affected the whole of English cricket, not just Yorkshire and it brought in the equality and human rights commission. That is fairly serious – they are government regulators on human rights. When you put those five pieces together this is something we have never seen before. It was a moment you thought all the views of these people have to change.
“Understandably, in the early days when I walked through the doors, all five of those groups were saying Test matches aren’t coming back here. It was because of that panic situation and being caught in the headlights that people didn’t look further than, actually, if Test matches or international matches didn’t come back here we were going to go bankrupt. We literally were. What were you going to do – lay off all of the staff, all of the players and try and come back in a couple of years with all of your sponsors gone? That wasn’t realistic. But at the same time all of those groups had to be comfortable and reassured that we were going to make seismic changes to get here. It was a real balance.”
Lord Patel is also hopeful the upcoming days of international cricket, along with the improvement of the club’s image, encourage more sponsors to return. He revealed the majority of the 43 who cut ties with the Yorkshire had returned.
“That says something about our reputation. We need to not just focus on the ECB or cricket payments. We need to become a viable sporting venue. The new skills on the board will help us do that.”
Patel, 61, also revealed he has received a “small but substantial bag of letters” of “phenomenally racist” letters from those opposed to his work.
“We have a very small but very vocal group of individuals that do not accept that racism happened at this club,” he said. “I think we have to move beyond that denial. Racism happens in society. It certainly happened at this club. We have just seen the gymnastics report. We know what happened in athletics. We know there is misogyny, discrimination, power imbalances and these things happen. It happened here badly. There are some people, for whatever reason, and I am not having a go at them… It has impacted and made our lives very difficult.
“It is not about me. It is about all of the staff who are working here tirelessly who have had a year and a half of being in the headlights and a year and a half of being abused – some physically, some verbally. It is them and their families and the players. We had to change for the better and I genuinely think we are.”
Lord Patel also revealed the club will advertise for a new chief executive in the next few days who will take on some of the duties that he has been shouldering. That includes preparing for the Cricket Discipline Committee hearing that will take place in September and October.
“I am hoping that people will be queuing round the corner to come here. The CDC will be there. We have got to deal with that. We have got to deal with the small number of naysayers. That doesn’t help the club.
“I also see a huge amount of excitement. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really make a difference and we have to capitalise on it.”
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo