One rule for all

The following is an article from The Cricketer published in May 2022. The unpublished footnotes are included for completeness:

The ECB has published new nationwide disciplinary regulations on the eve of the season, ostensibly to deal with bad conduct.  John Swannick investigates

“It is not necessary to accept everything as true; one must only accept it as necessary”

Franz Kafka, The Trial

The ECB’s General Conduct Regulations. Even the name is Kafkaesque. And nobody will go on the record to speak about them.

They are, say the ECB, an attempt to “set consistent standards of conduct and behaviour and provide a single set of regulations which can be applied consistently at the top end of recreational cricket”. Which might sound logical on the face of it.

Published just weeks before the season, adoption was mandatory in the 29 ECB Premier Leagues this season. All other “recreational clubs and leagues are strongly encouraged to abide by its procedures in readiness for the 2023 season” when they will become mandatory for all… subject to feedback.

So what feedback would stop this juggernaut? The accompanying Frequently Asked Questions (questions asked so frequently that the FAQs have been published in two versions to date) state: “Once the GCR had been finalised, the ECB conducted consultation exercises with the network…

“The GCR have already been approved by the appropriate regulatory bodies of the ECB and there will not be an opportunity for further changes to be made to the GCR before the season commences.” 

So finalise first, then consult.

But is anyone really going to get worked up about a bunch of rules?  And what could anyone object to?

Well, these are the headlines:

  • Playing offences now subject to maximum £500 fines and/or suspension for more games than are rained off
  • Offences extend to incidents off the field and even off club premises
  • Individuals are liable to penalty for social media comments, as could be anyone who recycles or ‘likes’ them
  • Players, supporters and club members can be charged with bringing any participant, club, league, county board or the ECB into disrepute
  • Clubs will be held accountable for the actions of their members and can be fined or sanctioned
  • Clubs, through safeguarding officers, are expected to decide and then report to their county board on the relevance of any of members’ “relevant” criminal records

Leagues, who have long had their own disciplinary procedures in place, had been expecting some blanket codification of rules to create consistency across the country.

But what they will have with GCR is an over-engineered response to a set of problems which – other than the well documented decline in on-field behaviour – rarely, if ever, exist.

One league official told me it has been possible for someone banned in one county to tip up in another where the implementation of ECB’s existing ‘model’ rules is less rigorous. Plenty of people give anecdotal examples of this. It brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘county lines’ – illicit amateur cricketer playing gigs.

I ran a series of scenarios past one of the ECB officials charged with implementing GCR, who played me with the straightest of bats. “You’re picking out extreme examples”, he said. “But,” I responded, “Those examples are covered in these regulations!”

“What are ‘relevant’ convictions on which clubs have to report their members, for example?  Is a spent conviction under the rehabilitation of offenders act for murder more or less relevant than someone done for providing a false identity to avoid a driving ban?”

“OK,” I continue. “That is an extreme example.” But this regulation covers way beyond the on-field, off-field and even the club domain.  So are clubs to be responsible for a spat between two rivals in neighbouring teams, ending up with fisticuffs in the local supermarket car park a week later?  Or their playing or even non-playing members’ comments critical of the league, county or the ECB in the local community Facebook group?

I spoke to some Premier League officials tasked with making sense of GCR. Some were not sure how far down their league structure the term ‘Premier’ extended when it came to mandatory or ‘encouraged’ adoption. Another official was hoping a “gentlemen’s agreement” with clubs in the top tier could avoid hurriedly convening a league EGM to push through the necessary constitutional changes.

Clearly somebody has asked this question, as it’s covered in the FAQs, but why has GCR been rushed out just before the season? Especially when, depending on who you speak to, this overhaul has been a work in progress for anything between 18 months and three years.

I asked my sources the obvious question of whether this has anything to do with the Azeem Rafiq revelations – which did touch on unsavoury historic allegations from club level.

“No, nothing”… “Entirely coincidental”… “I’m sure that’s why it’s been delayed until now…”

But it stands to reason that some of the 4,000-plus complaints to the ECB’s Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket will touch on the club game.

So who precisely was calling for this degree of regulation, given it goes well beyond most leagues’ aspirations? Sport England? The DCMS? HM Government itself? Clearly not a question that has been asked frequently enough, because it’s not in the FAQs. Yet.

But there is one cause that GCR will definitely help: the imposition of national club affiliation to the ECB – which has been mooted long before GCR.

Because what happens to any of the possible cases which fall under GCR if an individual or club gets m’learned friend involved? Unlike in football, rugby union or tennis in this country, recreational cricket clubs are not currently affiliated to the ECB, only to their local county board.

So everyone knows that the ECB and leagues can’t make any of this stuff stick below Premier League level, and maybe not even there. Not without formal jurisdiction over clubs.

John Swannick is facilitator of the Cricket Club Development Network:

  1. GCR is potentially the biggest governance grab in recreational clubs’ history
  2. National affiliation is now almost certain – national playing register next??
  3. Otherwise ECB had no powers to impose anything on ostensibly independent leagues and clubs below Premier League.  None of this can be made to stick  
  4. So ECB grab – without resources or people or knowledge to support clubs or indeed the apparent interest – is just to appease DCMS Committee
  5. The regulation is overkill and not wanted by leagues, many of whom are happy enough with existing ‘model’ arrangements if they could applied consistently
  6. If consistent application was objective, GCR is sledgehammer to crack nut; it is just a cut down version of county regulation under County Performance Agreements; legal costs saving perhaps? 
  7. But why the odd bolt-ons?   
  8. It means clubs are liable for members well outside on or even off-field domain
  9. They need to collect ‘relevant’ criminal conviction data but no definition of relevant.  Perhaps just safeguarding but doesn’t limit it to that.  Race/hate offences for example? 
  10. No mechanism for collecting data -and ECB doesn’t know how that’s intended – as current DBS requirements limited to picking up safeguarding offences
  11. Imposing curbs of free expression?  No qualification on what constitutes bringing ECB/Cricket etc into disrepute. 
  12. Fines now of up to £500 confirmed.  More if appeals etc. 
  13. League official confirm that fines currently few and far between because club not individual ends up paying.  Typically £50
  14. Expansion of realm to off field and beyond even the club  domain.  Hence supermarket example.    Where’s the line for which clubs accountable?
  15. League official says they currently take a common sense approach to wider realm; clubs are expected to deal with to League’s satisfaction.  Kent League has  a copy of every club’s code of conduct to play back to them if necessary!
  16. GCR mandatory for PL in 2022 and rest in 2023.  But expectation where PL is top division of multi-division league – which is case in most PLs –  that it should roll down now
  17. Some Counties are being more proactive – nudged perhaps – and seeking to roll out to all leagues ‘voluntarily’ this year  
  18. So not just top tier Of Premier Leagues!  And certainly not beyond 2022.
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