Ian Watmore has begun his tenure as chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board with an admission that a lack of ethnic diversity among the governing body’s board of directors is an unacceptable situation.
Watmore, who took over from Colin Graves on Tuesday, also threw his support behind the Hundred as well as the continuation of 18 professional first-class counties, despite projected losses of at least £106m this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the 62-year-old, a prominent civil servant who was previously chief executive of the Football Association, admitted to concerns over the 11-member ECB board that has four female directors and is now 100% white after Lord Patel of Bradford stood down at the same time as Graves.
“It’s quite clear that we do not have the diversity of board that we need,” Watmore said. “We are very strong with our gender balance – it could still be better – but our ethnicity and other attributes are not right.
“With [Patel] stepping down, we revert to being an all-white board, and that’s not acceptable going forward in the long run. I very much want to have a diverse, inclusive board at the top of English cricket, but also right through English cricket. If a sport’s governing body is not representative of the society it’s trying to serve, then it isn’t going to be an effective leader. That’s definitely something we need to develop.”
Watmore has added Andrew Strauss to the ECB board in a non-voting capacity, a move made to increase cricket knowledge at the top of the game, and intends to fill the vacancy left by Patel’s departure by November. His own leadership style, he insisted, will be “inclusive, consultative and collaborative”.
With this comes a desire to implement the ECB’s Inspiring Generations strategy – designed to broaden cricket’s appeal – as soon as possible, with the Hundred central. Though he has a preference for red-ball cricket, Watmore said he views the much-debated new eight-team tournament as a gateway to the “richness” of the wider sport.
Watmore, who helped to establish the Women’s Super League while at the FA, also stressed that the Hundred will give women’s cricket a professional domestic structure and that it will definitely be launched next summer, even if a decision on whether crowds can attend hinges on how other sports fare over the winter.
While the new competition brings an annual £1.3m dividend to the counties, the departing Graves recently stated that up to six counties may consider a move away from first-class cricket and even become semi-professional. But Watmore does not start his five-year term as the ECB’s first salaried chairman with any such desires.
“Each county can play its part in the future of English cricket, in addition to playing in the core tournaments. That’s the vision I come into this job with. If the economics and performance standards don’t allow that over a period of time, or individual counties decide they want to do something different, that’s a conversation. But it’s not where I’m coming from.”
To this end Watmore will meet the Professional Game Group this week to discuss the future structure of the County Championship amid talk of moving away from two divisions and expanding the conference system used for this year’s Bob Willis Trophy with seeded groups and more fixtures.
Watmore also shared his belief that England’s men must tour Pakistan in 2022 as payback for their visit this summer, rather than insist on a neutral venue, and confirmed, with regret, that the ECB is due to announce a wave of “painful” redundancies in response to the financial crisis.