The England & Wales Cricket Board was facing a major racism scandal on Friday evening after suspending its umpires’ manager over an alleged slur about England player turned match referee Devon Malcolm.
The Telegraph has been told Chris Kelly, in post for more than 16 years, was stood down pending an investigation into a jibe he was accused of making earlier this season about being unable to see Malcolm until he smiles.
The comment about one of English cricket’s most popular figures was alleged to have been made around a year after the governing body announced Malcolm as one of five new appointments to its match referee panel.
The ECB did so after being sued by former officials John Holder and Ismail Dawood, who claimed their careers had been cut short due to “institutionalised racism” there.
Holder and Dawood, who pointed out no ethnic minority umpires had been appointed to the ECB’s first-class panel since 1992 and that there had been no non-white representation on it since 2010, withdrew their claims days after the appointments of Malcolm and fellow former England fast bowler Dean Headley.
Any racist slur by Kelly about Malcolm would make a mockery of its commitment to a “diverse and inclusive officiating system” and completely undermine its bid to draw a line under the racism crisis to engulf the game following Yorkshire’s botched handling of the Azeem Rafiq affair.
Malcolm, who played 40 Tests for England after emigrating from his native Jamaica in 1979 – including claiming a memorable nine for 57 against South Africa at The Oval in 1994 – was added to the ECB’s match referee supplementary panel six months after telling the Telegraph he had been twice knocked back in his bid to become an umpire during the past two decades.
“When I finished playing cricket, I made some enquiries at the ECB about how I could get started as an umpire,” he said at the time. “I was told at the time there was no chance. The list was chock-a-block with umpires and it would be three or four years for it to change. Five years later, I went back. I took a part of my umpiring exams which I went through pretty well. Obviously, I thought they would be more receptive second time around and the fact no black umpire had been appointed by the ECB since 1992.
“But I got knocked back again. I was told the waiting list was too long. Not long after that, other guys got the opportunity to apply and were given the route to become a first-class umpire. You look at the whole thing and think: ‘Was it deliberate?’”
He also said he travelled the country watching his son, Jaden, play for the Northamptonshire academy and never saw another black boy.
“I have been travelling with my son since he was nine, and now he is almost 15, and I never see another black boy. It is crazy. Surely, he is not the only one. What is stopping black kids playing cricket? Is it the cost? Is it the way pathway systems work? You have to be on a county pathway system or you have no chance. These things have to be addressed so the kids participate in the game we love. It is a closed shop at the moment.
“The best way to change is through an independent inquiry.”
Malcolm spoke out on the same day Holder, who stood in international cricket, and Dawood, a former Yorkshire player who was on the umpires’ reserve list until 2014, went public with their accusations of “institutionalised racism”, “bullying” and “cronyism” against the ECB.
Using Malcolm as an example, the pair issued a statement through the Stump out Racism action group alleging there had “been a definite policy of only employing whites” for umpiring positions. Holder and Dawood also said: “There has never been in history any BAME officials in positions such as umpires’ mentors, umpires’ coaches, pitch liaison officers, cricket liaison officers and match referees.”
Dawood called for an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, saying: “The language I have heard over the years has been horrendous, words such as P---, c---, n----- featured from individuals attached to the ECB. Some of this language was used in front of senior ECB managers, which I found extremely disturbing.
“Having worked in different progressive sectors to cricket, I feel the ECB is the last colonial outpost, it is archaic, and any change is mere marketing rhetoric. The glass ceiling is incredibly low for BAME individuals, with systematic racism at the heart. I feel I have encountered racial discrimination, dishonesty and misinformation, cronyism, bullying, all of which is deep rooted in the organisation. It was an isolating place for a person from a BAME background.”
Holder and Dawood withdrew their employment claim following mediation talks that ended with the former agreeing to contribute to a review of officiating.
“The ECB is committed to a world-class, diverse and inclusive officiating system, with opportunities for all,” the governing body said at the time.
Kelly, appointed in 2006 after almost four years in a similar role at the International Cricket Council, referred requests for comment this week to the ECB, which declined to comment.