Yorkshire members have delivered a massive vote in support of Lord Kamlesh Patel’s proposals to restructure the club to address the fallout from Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of mistreatment, which brought accusations that the club was institutionally racist and also risked the potential loss of international fixtures at Headingley.
More than 80% of members voted in favour of reform on all three resolutions – although a disturbingly low turnout suggests that Yorkshire have suffered both from a flood of member resignations or non-renewals, while Covid may have been another influence – and that there is considerable disillusionment over the whole affair.
That being so, “a plague on both your houses” appears at least an undercurrent among the Yorkshire membership – although Yorkshire have yet to find a present-day Romeo and Juliet to show them a new direction. That really would be a change in the age profile.
After the result of the Extraordinary Annual meeting, held in the Long Room at Heaingley, was known, Lord Patel reacted: “We welcome the outcome of this EGM and thank the Members for their full and proper consideration, an open exchange of views, and their votes. It is an overwhelming vote for positive change.
“This support will help Yorkshire County Cricket Club to be an inclusive and welcoming place and gives us the clarity and certainty we need to keep building this great club.
“Yorkshire has now met the ECB’s conditions for the return of international cricket and, working with them, we’ll deliver some great events here at Headingley this summer. We’re looking forward to the start of the season, for all our teams and for cricket at all levels right across this County.”
Three proposals were voted through. Lord Patel’s ratification as Yorkshire’s chairman was approved by 932 votes in favour to 155 against, with 22 abstentions. A second resolution, releasing Lord Patel and others from personal liability on decisions taken, after threats of legal action, passed by 897 to 182 (28 abstentions); and the restructuring of the board to include independent members went through by 927 to 159 (19 abstentions).
Latest indications are that with official membership figures standing at around 6,000 (a figure yet to be clarified) turnout would be around 20%. Such a low response must fill Yorkshire with trepidation, a once powerful county brought to its knees.
Lord Patel, Yorkshire’s chair and de facto chief executive (a fact that defends his reported salary of around £200,000), had warned that failure to win the vote would make it virtually impossible for the club to pay players’ wages and complete the domestic cricket season, which begins next week.
Key sponsors have also turned on the county following Rafiq’s testimony that “institutional racism” had left him close to taking his own life.
The ECB wasted no time in expressing its support. A spokesperson said: “We are pleased that Yorkshire members have given their overwhelming support to these reforms. This is an important step forward in bringing about real change and setting the club on course for a more inclusive future.
“We welcome the progress made by Lord Patel so far, as well as his commitment to making the club one which everyone, from all backgrounds, can be proud of. With these governance reforms now having been passed, we are satisfied that international cricket can now be staged at Headingley this summer. However, there is much work still to be done at Yorkshire and it is important that the plans set out so far are now delivered. We will continue to monitor progress closely.
“Our regulatory investigation into the complaints brought by Azeem Rafiq, which is separate to this process, remains ongoing and we will update on this in due course.”
But their financial plight remains horrendous. Debts are around £20m and their opponents have predicted possible severance and unfair dismissal payments approaching £3m.
That decision still divides the county. Nevertheless, the first major vote of the membership is an emphatic rejection of the rebellion from a rump of Yorkshire members, led by former chairman Robin Smith, a retired 79-year-old Leeds-based lawyer, who has threatened to resist change with a long-running campaign of legal action.
That threat to the White Rose has not yet been withdrawn, and he might regard it as a preferable occupation in old age to pruning his own roses, although it would take a considerable dollop of self-entitlement for Smith to pursue it when the members, as well as the ECB and politicians, have now spoken so loudly.
Smith and his acolytes, some of them Yorkshire members for half a century or more, believe that Yorkshire’s independence is now under threat because of ECB interference and that Lord Patel has taken control in an undemocratic manner.
They particularly recoil at the fact that a new Board will be formed with eight independent members – not Yorkshire members – who will serve alongside two Board members drawn from the membership, the chief executive and director of cricket. Opponents have argued that Yorkshire is a co-operative society in law and so this us unlawful.
Smith had also claimed in a leaked letter to Lord Patel that Yorkshire would now essentially become a subsidiary of the ECB, forever dancing to its tune, and that the shift of power to the centre would affect any other recalcitrant counties in turn.
“A four to one ratio of outsiders to members as non-executives on the club’s board would so change the character of the club as to render it unrecognisable as a Yorkshire institution,” he wrote.
That battle cry for independence would once have carried considerable weight across the Broad Acres, and it is some achievement for the county to have mismanaged its enquiry into Rafiq’s racism allegations so markedly that Yorkshire members have just shrugged off the risk and accepted that change is not just inevitable but desirable.
But county cricket is changing, albeit slowly, memberships are falling, and the introduction of independently-minded figures with many talents might finally break the cosy coterie that has run Yorkshire cricket for the past generation without much to show in their favour.
The clear message from Yorkshire members is that, whatever the risk, they have had enough and that it is time to move on.
Some may also recognise the irony that when Yorkshire ran into a financial crisis 20 years ago, Smith, then chairman, forced through his own power game – as he proudly told the Yorkshire Post when he retired as chairman in 2020.
“The club was under real threat,” he said. “We had a big and unwieldy committee and very committed cricket people who didn’t necessarily know anything about how to run a business.
“It was an opportunity to modernise the whole structure of the club and… I decided that the best way to do that was to get the committee to agree to delegate all its powers [via a change in the club constitution] to a small group of people who knew what they were doing.”
If change has been embraced (however grudgingly in some households) within a largely aged membership then the likelihood is that the view across Yorkshire cricket as a whole – younger followers who are less likely to be members, but who still follow the county and who fill the cricket grounds every weekend – will be even more enthusiastic.
Smith has also lambasted in writing the chair of parliament’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee, Julian Knight, after the body heard emotional evidence from Rafiq about his treatment at Yorkshire, suggesting that their conclusion was pre-judged and that the committee was guilty of “unlawful interference” against the committee.
Smith wrote: “My information is that the DCMS pressured the ECB to sanction YCCC in the wake of Azeem Rafiq’s allegations by threatening to determine that the ECB was not a fit and proper governing body for cricket.”
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps