Sports Minister warns ECB of government intervention as pressure mounts on Tom Harrison

The UK sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, has told the ECB that unless rapid progress is made to address the issue of institutional racism in cricket, the government may be forced to take the “nuclear option” of establishing an independent regulator. On Thursday, Huddlestone told a select committee of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that the government was “impatient” for cricket to “put its house in it” and address the issues identified in Azeem Rafiq’s statement to the same panel on Tuesday.

“Cricket is not nationalised in the United Kingdom, and we have no direct control over the sport,” Huddlestone told the committee. “However, if they don’t get their act together, we have the nuclear option of legislating to potentially bring in an independent regulator.” If we absolutely had to, it is probably the path we would take.”

Huddlestone’s remarks add to the pressure on Tom Harrison, the ECB’s embattled chief executive, who faced a tense session before Parliament on Tuesday and is poised to face an even tougher grilling on Friday, when a game-wide meeting is scheduled to discuss the issue at The Oval.

The ECB’s dual role as cricket’s governing body and regulator irritated Harrison at the DCMS inquiry, particularly its decision to allow Yorkshire to conduct, and then suppress, their own investigation into Rafiq’s charges. Julie Elliott MP, a member of the DCMS panel, described the situation as “a system ripe to misuse.”

Harrison, who has been CEO since 2015, played a key role in the ECB’s £1.1 billion rights contract with Sky and the BBC, which runs from 2020 to 2024. Though the ECB was credited for its initial handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the decision to award a £2.1 million bonus pot to Harrison and other senior executives remains a deeply divisive issue, especially given the sport’s multi-million pound losses in the previous financial year, and the extensive redundancies that followed, his relationship with the counties was soured by the manner in which the Hundred was pushed through the game.