Over the past year the England and Wales Cricket Board has taken important actions to review officiating across the game, and in particular to develop a new and equitable officiating structure from grassroots to the professional level.
The ECB has a long history of developing some of the very best officials in the world, but we also know that the there is an under-representation of Black or South Asian heritage officials as well as women and people with disabilities within our professional and recreational ranks.
Last year an independent Officiating Review was conducted to understand how we can best attract, appoint, develop, manage the performance of, and evaluate match officials from all backgrounds.
The review, which spoke to officials from across the game - as well as internal and external experts - had four clear ambitions:
- To ensure that we have a world-class officiating pathway with a clear focus on equity of opportunity
- To ensure that as a game we inspire the next generation of match officials
- To develop a diverse network which best reflects society
- To promote a culture of inclusivity and fairness throughout recreational and professional officials
We are committed to establishing the wide-ranging recommendations of the review and building on the strong foundations that our officiating team have already put in place over many years.
Most importantly, we have already started to take meaningful action.
One of the first actions taken after completion of the review was to create a diverse Officiating Oversight Panel, which met for the first time last October. It is now challenging and questioning all decisions relating to selection, appointments practices and processes across the department.
The Panel oversaw the process that led to the appointments of Naeem Ashraf, Anthony Harris, Sue Redfern, Surendiran Shanmugam and Jack Shantry to the new 34-person Professional Umpires’ Team, which we announced in March.
The formation of the Professional Umpires’ Team ahead of this summer is another important action.
This is significant because every umpire on the Professional Umpires’ Team will now have the performance and financial support to make umpiring their sole career.
Previously, Reserve List umpires have had to juggle their umpiring commitments with other work. Those umpires are now included in the single pool with more time and resource given to them to focus on developing their skills and ability as umpires.
This also sends a clear message to anyone who wants to be an umpire that structures and support are in place that make umpiring a viable and attractive career choice.
This year, all umpires and officials will also attend mandatory EDI training, as part of fostering a more inclusive environment across cricket.
Umpires will benefit also from the additional support of a new Officiating Department, which we are in the process of creating.
We have just appointed Richard Glynne-Jones to the new role of Head of Officiating. Richard joins the ECB from the Football Association where he has been the National Referee Manager since 2016 and has designed and implemented a range of initiatives across refereeing to enhance the experience for everyone involved in football.
The department’s remit is not only to support professional umpires but also to support the whole game with a focus to establish a pathway and environment that makes umpiring accessible to everyone.
We recognise that starts with more opportunities in the recreational game, and so we have created a targeted coaching and mentoring programme that focuses on supporting aspiring umpires from diverse backgrounds.
The programme will equip individuals with the skills to help them reach their ambitions whether that be as a local club umpire or as a professional.
While there was an increase in the proportion of umpires from ethnically diverse backgrounds on the National Panel last year, we need to invest time and resource in programmes such as the coaching and mentoring initiative in order to build sustainable change.
That can only benefit the National Panel – which is a pool of the best performing umpires in Premier club cricket leagues across England & Wales – and who will be the next officials to step into the Professional Umpires’ Team (following in the footsteps of Naeem Ashraf, Anthony Harris, Sue Redfern, Surendiran Shanmugam, and Jack Shantry).
We have also seen the positive impact of the work we are doing already with the rapid progress of female officials in cricket over the past 18 months.
Sue Redfern was the only female umpire involved in professional domestic cricket at the start of 2020, and has now been appointed to the new Professional Umpires’ Team where she will balance her commitments in women’s umpiring with some opportunities in men’s professional cricket.
Last year we saw Anna Harris become the joint youngest-ever international cricket umpire at the age of 22, while Anna and Yvonne Dolphin-Cooper became the first all-female umpiring team to stand in a men’s Premier League match.
The depth of talent has also increased with the women’s regional domestic competition allowing us to appoint 12 female officials with some going on to officiate in The Hundred and we are set to confirm further contracts for female officials before the 2022 season.
The ECB is in the process of restructuring the pathway for officials in women’s cricket – again to establish a clear link and developmental process from grassroots to the elite level – so that we can ensure transparency and consistency and provide more opportunities.
The dedicated ECB Officiating Department we are creating will be independent of the team of Match Referees, who will continue to be managed by the Domestic Cricket Operations team.
This is important because the Match Referees’ remit has been re-focused on all match-day activities, and so, their role is distinctly separate from umpiring duties. We are also pleased to confirm that we have appointed our first female Match Referee this summer, Helen Pack, who is joined by former Sussex coach Jason Swift and former Gloucestershire bowler Mike Smith as new additions to the Match Referees panel.
We know that there is more progress we need to make and that each step we take must drive long-term change.
To help us do that we will continue to look at best practice from outside ECB and cricket. Last year we contracted the external expertise of the Sports Officials’ Consultancy who have a worldwide reputation in reviewing, developing and reforming officiating structures.
The team at Sports Officials Consultancy has personal experience as officials within football and rugby league and will benchmark our work against other sports.
They are supporting us to effectively deliver the recommendations of the review and provide knowledge, skills and expertise on the project to establish a diverse officiating structure.
There is still much work to be done but we have now set the platform, and begun taking the actions, that will provide more opportunities for anyone who wants to be an official at any level of the game.