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Cricket helping refugees to shine in MCC Foundation Hubs across the country

Thursday June 20 was World Refugee Day. Organised annually by the United Nations, the day is designed to celebrate and honour refugees around the world, acknowledging their hardships and recognising that things can, and hopefully will, get better.

Across the UK, in London in particular, the MCC Foundation has been supporting young refugees from Afghanistan, giving them the chance to play cricket while settling into their new lives.

Based at Lord's, the MCC Foundation is a charity delivering projects across the UK and around the world. They provide free coaching and match opportunities for boys and girls from state schools and disadvantaged backgrounds, including refugees, allowing them to achieve their potential when they otherwise may not have the opportunity.

There are currently 11 Afghan refugees attending the MCC’s hubs across the country: seven at Lord’s, one in Reading, one in Leyton, one in Hammersmith and one in Derby. There were formerly several Afghan players at the hub in Scarborough too, but they have since been relocated from the area and rehoused elsewhere in the UK.

Dr Sarah Fane OBE is Director of the MCC Foundation. She worked in Afghanistan for many years doing both medical and charity work, helping build cricket pitches and grow the game across the country.

“The cricket (in Afghanistan) started because the Afghans that became the [national] team had grown up in a refugee camp in Pakistan and they brought cricket back to Afghanistan,” she said.

“So, I had an understanding of how for refugees, cricket can be the most empowering thing and it can be the one thing that keeps them going.”

Fane joined the MCC Foundation in 2020. “When I came to work at the MCC Foundation, I came with a passion to support refugees across the world,” she said.

“One of the first things we did with the Afghan refugees was in 2021, when Kabul fell, we opened up Lord’s.

“We brought them up to Lord’s for cricket and free hot meals and really tried to welcome them to this country. That's how it all sort of began, really.”

The MCC Hubs are specifically for 11-16-year-olds with an interest in and a commitment to cricket. There are 77 Hubs across the country where players receive coaching from qualified ECB Level 2 and above coaches and have the opportunity to play competitively in the National Hub Competition, which holds its boys and girls finals at Lord’s. Last year’s competitions were won by Guildford Girls and Reading Boys respectively.

A recent £1 million injection of funding over two years from MCC and ECB has seen 49 new Hubs created across the country including in Aberdeen, Huddersfield and Plymouth.

“The beauty of the Hubs is that they're all about helping kids that can play cricket to develop their cricket and they're totally free to access,” said Fane.

“There’s free coaching over the winter and then there's summer match play with a big Hub competition across the country. It's all about trying to break down the barriers to entry.

The Afghans playing at the Hubs receive free kit and help with transport costs. Some of the coaches are also able to speak Afghan languages to help with removing communication barriers and to make the children feel more at home.

“There are no costs at all for them and that's been a fantastic thing for them to be able to develop their cricket.

“We also do a programme in the summer, which is called a Springboard Programme, where our most talented players from Hubs across the UK get extra coaching. One of our Reading Hub Afghan kids has just been nominated for that programme this year.

“He'll be coming to Lord’s for an extra week of fantastic coaching and hopefully he'll be spotted by a county and will get into a county pathway.”

While cricket is the primary focus of the Hubs, they are about so much more for the refugee children.

“They come into our hubs, which are open to all state school children. They're able to integrate and make friends and relax through cricket. They have the same coaches that all our kids have.

“We are really passionate about supporting them and that it's such a win-win. It is brilliant for them, it's brilliant for other kids to meet them and understand them, especially with all the rhetoric around immigration at the minute.

“And it's brilliant for cricket because they're such talented young players. They're amazing.”

It’s not just in the UK where the MCC Foundation is doing brilliant work with refugees, Fane has helped set up programmes and support that allow refugees, not just from Afghanistan, to play cricket in places like Lebanon, Rwanda and Serbia.

They are also training coaches allowing refugees and others in those places to earn a qualification and earn an income from cricket.

For more information on the MCC Foundation and the work they are doing, visit lords.org/mcc/mcc-foundation. 

This article appeared in this week's edition of The Cricket Paper.