How Ebony Rainford Brent and the ACE Cricket Programme are encouraging black participation in the game

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When we think of the biggest sports in England the images which immediately come to mind are that of roaring crowds, 5-aside tournaments or a pair of jumpers a metre and a half aside in an effort to form some sort of makeshift goal. Football, much like the world over, is the dominant sport in England. It is by no stretch the only popular sport across the country with Rugby also prolific across professional and amateur levels. 224,400 adult players take part across all levels in England alone and it is equally embedded within the national psyche at club but especially International level.

Much the same can be said of cricket which (at least before pandemic) will have very likely been boosted by the success of England's Cricket team at the 2019 World Cup. Cricket is also relatively diverse at a grassroots level with research from the ECB suggesting that as many as 30% of active participants are from BAME backgrounds however this does feature a noticeable quirk - a more recent study by Sport England which looked at ethnicity across sports found that the number of black adults involved in cricket was so small it was statistically insignificant. This follows a longer trend of a steep decline black participation - a study by Leeds Beckett University found that there had been a 72% decrease in black players between 1995-2019. It should be noted that this is in line with a general decline in participation in Cricket, but the figures regarding the participation of black adults is especially noticeable.

Given the numbers, Surrey’s newly announced ACE initiative at the end of January would have been welcome news for many. The ACE scheme which is being led by former England cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent seeks to actively find ways of getting 11-18 year boys and girls involved in the sport.

Perhaps most impressive is that the scheme does not solely focus on involving black youth with matters on the pitch but instead looks at potential in a range of roles which also includes physiotherapy and involvement as an umpire and scorer.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Ebony Rainford-Brent spoke of the need to now more than ever “drive change” but also of the scheme's early impact. She said:

“We only launched this initiative a few months ago but we are already seeing early signs of its success - a thriving academy programme with 25 graduates and a community programme about to roll out.”

"We did not even realise the potential at our own gates; there are 33,000 young black British kids walking past the Oval gates every day. Just imagine the potential in other areas around the country. If we come together and work together we could see accelerated change."

Ebony Rainford Brent’s claim regarding the potential of the programme is already bearing fruit, with one player having already been given the opportunity of playing for Surrey u-18s. It remains to be seen the long term effect that the ACE programme will have, but by teaming up with Surrey and seeking to engage more black youth in Sport, many will argue that in some ways the scheme has already been a success.

Mayowa Ayodele

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