07 June 2022, The Tablet

Religious leaders join ECB to sign unity statement

The Archbishop of Westminster was among those present at Lord's for the statement's unveiling on 2 June.

Religious leaders join ECB to sign unity statement

Signatories of the ECB's “Unity Statement”, including Cardinal Vincent Nichols, fourth from left, on the outfield at Lord's on Thursday, 2 June.
England and Wales Cricket Board

Religious leaders including the imam Mufti Yusif Akudi, Rabbi Nicky Liss, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols met at Lord’s on the first day of England’s Test match against New Zealand, 2 June, to unveil a “Unity Statement” with the England and Wales Cricket Board.

The statement, an initiative of Heaven Help Us Cricket Club and the Green Park Foundation, referred to the Laws of Cricket which affirm that the game “encourages leadership, friendship and teamwork [and] brings together people from different nationalities, cultures and religions, especially when played within the Spirit of Cricket”.

Signatories expressed their “willingness to work together with the ECB and the wider game of cricket to achieve change and to demonstrate cricket’s ability to unite people and communities from different backgrounds”.

The initiative follows last year’s testimonies from the Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq and others, which exposed racism and discriminations in many areas of the sport.  In the wake of these revelations, Mohammed Sadiq Patel founded Heaven Help Us Cricket Club to promote inclusion in the sport, including fixtures between British Muslims and a Vatican XI.

In his contribution to the statement, Mufti Yusif Akudi, a member of Heaven Help Us CC, called cricket “a fantastic way of developing skills, bringing unity, strategy, leadership, understanding beyond boundaries through race, religion and faith”.

Another signatory, Revd Chris Kennedy, is the captain of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s XI.  He said that “this sport has enabled faith communities to set aside their differences and celebrate their distinctiveness in the shared love of the game”.  His side’s last outing in 2019 saw them lose by 75 runs to St Peter’s, the Vatican cricket club, in a T20 in Rome.

Contributing on behalf of Cardinal Nichols, Professor Simon Lee recalled the observation of Pope Pius XII that “the question should not be why is the Church bothered about sport, but ‘How can the Church not be interested in sport?’”

“My friendly team in an Oxfordshire village has Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, humanist and atheist players. We expect the professional game to be similarly all-inclusive,” he said.

Professor Lee, professor of law at the Open University and emeritus professor at Queen’s University, Belfast, was the inaugural chair of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport when it was established in 2010 – and captained Middleton Stoney Cricket Club for four years.

He was also present at Lord’s for the unveiling. “It was an honour to be there in support,” he told The Tablet.

The Test match which followed was a low-scoring classic, with both sides sustaining batting collapses and neither clearly dominant until Joe Root, the former England captain, produced a match-winning century on the fourth day.

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