Ebony Rainford-Brent says her ACE Programme Charity is making quick progress and believes it can help make cricket stronger by making the game more representative of the population.
ACE was founded in January 2020 to try and engage young people from African and Caribbean heritage following a 75 per cent decline in the number of black British professional cricketers.
A talent search began in London with 25 ACE Academy scholarships awarded and its success led to ACE being launched as an independent charity in October with the hope of establishing the programme in five UK cities.
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“It’s moving really quickly,” Rainford-Brent told The Cricket Show: Black Lives Matter special – you can watch the show on Sky Sports Cricket from 6pm.
“We set it up because there was a 75 per cent decline in Black professional players and we also knew that there was under-representation, not enough coming into the game.
“We just wanted to see, is there talent out there? Is there interest? And can we offer some scholarships and get some opportunities for some people?
“We found some real talent out there in the game, we had a kid go and play for Surrey U18s, we’ve had three more train at county levels – not because it is forced but because they deserve those opportunities.”
While Rainford-Brent stresses there are a number of factors that have led to the stark decline in the participation of Black players at all levels of the game, she highlights the structure and how players are scouted as key to lack of diversity at the highest level of the English game, with those who attend private schools significantly more likely to find their way into the county system than those who do not.
“The big vision for me is that I want to see our game, which we all love, be representative of our society,” she added.
“Our society is made up of everything from white working class to British South Asians, all different communities and what ACE is trying to do is tackle one specific problem, but we’ve got a lot to tackle.
“The biggest one we have is around the fact that the elite and access to wealth dominate our game.”
Given the basis on which it was founded, The ACE Programme is understandably focused on ensuring the opportunities are there for young Black cricketers to progress to the professional ranks.
However, the programme is working just as hard to allow those who do not make it that far as a player can remain within the game.
“The No 1 clear factor is making sure that progress through from the grassroots to the elite,” Rainford-Brent said. “So we are looking at that talent pathway.
“However, we have already found we have got kids who are interested in sports media. Well, we look around our media box often when we get in there and it is a similar position.
“We’re now looking at whether we can support and facilitate young people that we come across, who have that interest, to move into that area, move into S&C (strength and conditioning), move into the game.
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“I think our game will be stronger in 10 years’ time if we can enthuse and excite a community. Then someone who is writing about it can inspire more people. The key is that we want to make the game more representative as a whole.
“That is what is exciting about ACE, we’re seeing results quickly, we’re seeing there’s talent and we’re seeing that there is a real interest even if people haven’t had that heritage.
“I didn’t grow up knowing much about the West Indian team, that amazing team, until much later in my career. I don’t think we always have to wait until someone knows about that history, we can enthuse them today from absolute scratch because the game is an amazing game, and the wider parts of the game, I think it will be a natural transition.”
The women’s game is in need of particular attention, according to Rainford-Brent, and while the numbers show there is considerable work to be done, that only makes the former England Women’s player more determined to succeed.
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“The women’s game is well off,” said World Cup and Ashes winner. “We’re aware of the problem so what that means is we’re doubling down, we’re putting in a lot more effort.
“What’s really exciting is that we’ve got these development hubs where with all the schools that we’re talent scouting, we’re offering them these hubs and loads of girls are turning up, loads of talented girls are turning up and they’re loving it.
“I think there are other barriers when it comes to girls and sport anyway, which links to all sorts of issues around identity, do we believe sport is for us, are the opportunities there?
“The list can go on when it comes to female engagement so we’re actually doing more activity focusing on bringing more girls because we know that we have to do the extra work because the numbers aren’t there.
“If I’m being brutal about the statistics then the girls and women’s game needs a lot more work.”
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