The impatient Rainford-Brent needs fast progress with ACE
Ebony Rainford-Brent helped set up the ACE program after impatiently waiting for the authorities to introduce changes to improve diversity in English cricket
"Is it me? On paper, no. That should have been the game. I think it should have been the game, but where I am I've run out of patience."
At a certain point, it was enough for Ebony Rainford-Brent. In 2001 she became the first black woman to play for England.
But instead of paving the way for others and contributing to greater diversity in both men's and women's cricket, she has watched the number of black players in English professional cricket decline in recent years, with no apparent effort by those responsible Were made to fix the problem.
Ultimately, she decided that she was tired of waiting for something to be done and took action. In January of this year, the Surrey County Cricket Club launched the African-Caribbean Engagement Program (ACE) to provide cricket opportunities for boys and girls with an African-Caribbean background.
Rainford-Brent explains Surrey's ACE program – an initiative designed to increase participation in cricket in the African-Caribbean community
Nine months later, the ACE program is slated to be set up as an independent charity after Sport England received substantial £ 540,000 support over three years with Rainford-Brent chairing and Michael Holding, Roland Butcher and Denise Lewis and Sir Trevor McDonald as honorary patrons.
Former English players Mark Butcher and Alex Tudor are among the ambassadors, as is the current all-rounder for English women, Sophia Dunkley.
After the program started, 25 young players were selected for a coaching program this summer after 70 took exams shortly before the embargo in early March. A young player graduated from ACE to play in games for Surrey's U18 team.
Rainford-Brent, the first black woman to play cricket for England, was part of her country's 2009 World Cup victory and has been a well-respected cricket executive and commentator ever since
The progress that has been made in such a short space of time is undoubtedly impressive, but Rainford-Brent firmly believes it will continue not just in London but across the country. Warwickshire CCC has been announced as a partner and a new program is scheduled to start in Birmingham in 2021. and plans to have similar programs in Manchester, Nottingham and Bristol.
"We want to accelerate change, I am impatient," she said. "Accelerating change is important to us, I already have gray hair and as soon as I see this I know time is ticking. I don't want to wait 25 years to see results, I want to see them soon.
"We have had some success this summer, but our challenge is not just to accelerate in one area of London, but to spread that momentum across the country.
"We want to draw a line and now create a positive new vision for the black community. If we get this right then I hope this creates a legacy and a movement that can change how we think about it. There is a lot of work to be done can be done to address that, but we want to create something that is empowering and inspiring.
According to Michael Holding, education is key to eradicating the problem of racism and making sure this becomes a moment of real social change
"I've reached this point and the more we do this, the more frustrated I get that this has to change. What I'd say, more people in power ready, I've really had some great conversations with Ian Watmore, Tom Harrison and Sanjay Patel – the people in positions of power want to do something. "
"Breaking cricket in the 90s was painful"
Sport England board member Chris Grant believes the divide between African-Caribbean communities and English cricket dates back to the 1990s and believes the ACE program can help mend that relationship.
"This is called Afro-Caribbean engagement and the way I see it is more of a renewal," he added. “The Afro-Caribbean community was not into cricket, they were married. When my father, who was part of that Windrush generation, actually came before Windrush before the war, cricket was an entire part of his life who was from Jamaica.
"But something happened and there was kind of a chaotic divorce between the Afro-Caribbean community and cricket in England. This fixes that and puts it back together. I just think that's hugely important.
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"It was 25 years ago when a lot of people in the Afro-Caribbean community lost it to cricket. That year an article was published in Wisden suggesting that Devon Malcolm, who at the time I think was the record-breaking Wicket was, How could he really be English? The title of the article was, "Is it in the blood?"
"It was also the year the West Indies toured England and some of the cricket grounds, including the Kia Oval, really took pride in the fact that they had introduced new ticket mechanisms and banned musical instruments and banners, which meant a generation from West Indian supporters were kicked out of the game if they supported the West Indies.
"For me personally it was a heartbreaker because people like Clive Lloyd, for example, were just massive in my development. I literally wouldn't be here today if it weren't for those very few people – Sir Trevor McDonald is another, an ambassador for ACE – that I could see in public, that I could look up to and that behaved in this amazing way.
"For me personally, that cricket break in the 1990s was painful and I think many people in the Afro-Caribbean community, men and women, have had such heart pains for the last 20 years."
Rainford-Brent says she has sometimes asked why she stayed in cricket after being exposed to racist comments during her career in sports
Chevy Green has been named program director of ACE, one of four full-time employees made possible by funding from Sport England, and says the development of future English stars would be desirable just to involve more families with African-Caribbean backgrounds at all levels of the Game is just as important.
"We may not be able to get them to play for England but whatever we can do to get them on this journey and create the best opportunities on and off the pitch to do so ( we'll do it) "he said.
"Then one day we could have more English cricketers, maybe more people in sports development coaching, nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches. If ACE can do that, why not?"
"If ACE can do this by empowering a young person to play and develop off the field, that's all I want to do. I love it and look forward to it. They say it's not Rome. " built in one day – but we weren't there and we are here now! We'll let things happen. "
& # 39; 50 -50 & # 39; split between ACE targets
Increasing the number of women players in the program is also high on Rainford-Brent's list of priorities, with boys making up the vast majority of the 25 players selected after the initial attempts.
"We only attracted 17 percent of women to our open house," she told reporters. "I know that there are different challenges and obstacles. Only two out of 25 were selected for the academy. For this program to be successful, we want it to be 50:50, that is our goal to take a lot of work.
"I don't think cricket is first and foremost attractive to women. That was my barrier. I remember thinking it was utter nonsense until I got the experience. So one thing is to change perceptions and make cricket visible to make it cool and knowing that there are opportunities. We spoke to Sophia Dunkley and she wants to play a role in just changing the perception. "
The English all-rounder Sophia Dunkley is one of the ACE ambassadors
Green added, "I would like to be proven wrong, but I have yet to be proven wrong: there aren't two black girls in a cricket academy in this country.
"The fact that we started the ACE academy and found two young black girls I think should be celebrated as no other cricket academy in the country has two black girls playing. It's an achievement and like this Program developed, we will turn more young black women into players, coaches, leaders and role models in their community. "
Rainford-Brent says that simply increasing the number of people involved in the program would be a success at first, but after years of waiting, realizing that things won't change overnight, she has higher goals for the future.
"I don't want everyone to expect us to produce a mini Jofra Archer or Sophia Dunkley tomorrow, but if we have the right foundation we will get to that stage."