A CONVERSATION WITH MATT KABIR FLOYD
Updated: Jan 21, 2022
On his way back from working in India and quarantining in a Berlin hotel, I can’t pass up the opportunity for an England vs India series prediction. “It’s going to be an amazing series. I’m going to go for India to win. It’s going to be exciting.” We speak just over a week before the start of the first Test. As I sit down to put pen to paper on this write up, India have just put on a phenomenal bowling display (some might call it an England collapse) to take the second Test, with just 8 overs remaining on the final day. First blood India. As I go to post this, we’ve just experienced a 5-day thriller at The Oval to see India take a 2-1 lead in the series, with just one (and at this stage, a potentially rain, or even COVID-impacted) Test left, at Old Trafford.
The excitement of red-ball cricket is on show, for all to see.
Having an Indian mother and an English father, Matt Kabir Floyd perhaps has a foot in both camps for this series. Being British born though, he supports England. “I'm born & brought up here and therefore naturally more culturally English…It’s easier for me.” However, that decision may not be as simple for the wider, cricket-loving, British South Asian community. It’s a potential reason for the lack of British South Asians playing in the English county circuit. “Generally, guys of our generation are brought up to support India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan or Sri Lanka first…It makes it harder to feel more English.” This may well be a result of parental influence and learned behaviour, but Matt also believes there is a “lack of identity with British culture” amongst the community. He’s not wrong. Through the ECB’s South Asian Action Plan, research has shown that “many members of South Asian communities continue to feel excluded by, and choose not to engage with, English cricket.”[i] This feeling of exclusion and alienation was evident in Matt’s 2018 Sky Sports documentary, entitled ‘The South Asian Conundrum,’ which aimed to address the issues surrounding the lack of South Asians in English cricket. “The problem is, a lot parents think, because they’re kids aren’t getting the opportunity, what’s the point in supporting England?“ says one parent, in the piece.
The documentary, which features the likes of Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Samit Patel, does a great job of bringing to the surface some of the most pertinent issues on the topic and it was Matt’s own initiative, along with Sky’s willingness, that brought it together. “I really wanted to do it. Sky are great like that. If you have an idea, they let you run with it.” But there was no eureka moment and there is no real clear solution. “It’s a really complicated issue, for a number of reasons,” Matt says. “I think there’s a big problem with unconscious bias.” This was a concept that Matt didn’t really think much about until he spoke to Wasim Khan, the then CEO of Leicestershire County Cricket Club (and at the time, the only British Asian in charge of any professional sporting club in the UK). Khan has seen his ability take him to the position of CEO for the Pakistan Cricket Board. “Wasim is really good on this subject, really intelligent guy.” Khan talks about this unconscious bias in the documentary “[British South Asians] were put into a certain box, because they didn’t conform in a certain way. They’re different, and then perhaps too much hassle to deal with.” Some might refer to this as institutional racism. We address this. “It’s a tricky term,” Matt says. “Racism is different for different people. I think [the cricketing system] is institutionally biased, with some racism in there, as well. We need to get rid of the bias, as well as the racism.” This point is particularly poignant, especially in a week where the publication of a report on racism at Yorkshire CCC, as a result of allegations made by former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq, was delayed[ii] (and not for the first time). We do know, however, that some of those allegations were upheld (and termed as “inappropriate behaviour,”[iii] to the confusion of many).
Often, when talking about unconscious bias in cricket, there are some usual suspects that tend to rear their heads. Weight, diet, training etc. A lot of this is simply cultural and culture brings with it certain ways of thinking. “If you come from a traditional Asian family, you don’t generally get the support if you want to be a professional sportsman. Traditional Asian families don’t see professional sport as a viable future.” And then you have clashes of cultures. “I think there’s a bit of a lack of understanding between Asian cultures and white cultures in some ways. There’s a bit of a divide. The Asian players hang out together. The white guys look at the Asian guys with a bit of suspicion. They’re seen as being high maintenance. More so probably with the Islamic culture. That’s not just a cricket thing, that’s a society thing.” Something that comes with divided cultures is the feeling alienation and rejection. It’s clear that the numbers of South Asians playing recreational cricket don’t exactly translate to the professional game (30% recreational, to just 4% professional). This isn’t to say all British Asians have been excluded from the game. Of course, we have seen success from the likes of those already named and more on the fringe. “The British Asians who do well in the system and go far are the ones that accept that this is the way that British cricket culture is. They sort of adapt and fit into it,” Matt says. Or, as I think of it, Code Switching.
Author Derek Bardowell references ‘Codes’ in his book ‘No Win Race.’ When referring to black people in England, he describes these Codes as “the characteristics considered important to be a strong black male in English society.” [iv] ‘Code Switching’ is defined as “the switching from the linguistic system of one language or dialect to that of another”[v]. It’s not only limited to speech. It can extend to appearance, expressions and behaviour. We all do it. Think about your phone voice. Or, your professional work voice. These switches take on a whole new level when you’re Asian. Trust me, I know! Dr Anita K. Blanchard, from the University of Chicago, recently wrote about how the ‘Code Switch’ has been beneficial for her own success, as a black physician in medicine. There are those who have stayed true to their ‘Codes’ and still succeeded. But what’s the price of Code Switching? The price of having to change, conform, or relinquish elements of who you are, in order to succeed? In my mind, this poses a moral and cultural dilemma. With the South Asian migrant community already having lost so much, you could forgive them for wanting to stay true to their roots, in the hope that they are selected on merit, whether that be in sport, employment or any other field.
As Matt has already said, it’s a complicated issue. All we can hope for is that things start changing, especially with the initiatives being put in place, such as coaching bursaries, diversity campaigns, as well as a more diverse representation on our screens. One place where this screen representation is obvious was the broadcasting team for The Hundred. I started this piece by talking about Test Cricket and I finish on the other end of the spectrum. By the time this piece has been posted, the inaugural Hundred competition will have concluded. A lot has been made of the brand-new format, for good or for bad (I won’t go into my opinions on the competition, here) and there are theories that the city-based competition, along with attracting a new younger audience, could further engage the British South Asian population. “I don’t think it’s specifically designed to do that. One way that it could is they’ve got a few Asian overseas players, a few Afghan players, that’s great to have. Let’s see”
That “let’s see” is very appropriate, right now.
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[i] ECB South Asian Action Plan, P.76 [ii] https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/azeem-rafiq-calls-on-ecb-politicians-to-intervene-after-yorkshire-delay-publication-of-racism-report-1273989 [iii] https://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12146/12385337/azeem-rafiq-says-yorkshire-statement-hurts-after-county-apologise-for-inappropriate-behaviour [iv] No Win Race, Derek Bardowell [v] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/code-switching