Not drinking? That's just not cricket!Jun 28, 2023
Drinking cultures make people feel excluded in all walks of life, not just in cricket
“A heavy drinking culture excludes a significant number of people”
This is how the ECB starts its section about alcohol in its report entitled ‘Holding up a Mirror to Cricket’. It is true of cricket, but this is a truth that goes way beyond cricket, and beyond sport in general. The report is effectively holding up a mirror to so many businesses and institutions in the UK and internationally. The heavy drinking culture is damaging, and the individuals who are perpetuating the problem are often unaware of the harm they are causing. Racism and sexism lie behind many of the problems, but we need to be mindful of the fact that there are also middle-class white men who don’t want to drink alcohol or to be part of the alcohol-fuelled laddish culture which is exposed in this report.
In this article, I will look at what the ECB report says about alcohol, and consider whether the points made are unique to cricket or whether they have wider relevance.
Alcohol is part of cricket’s culture
The report says that “having a beer as part of the usual post-match routine, and social events involving alcohol, (these things) are part of many clubs’ culture”.
The same is true in most sports, particularly at amateur level. And it is true of many working environments as well. I have interviewed senior police officers in the UK and in Scandinavia, healthcare workers in the UK and USA and business leaders in the UK and in Europe, and socialising over alcohol with colleagues is widespread. It is also problematic.
What is perhaps unique to cricket is that many clubs are, or at least believe themselves to be, financially dependent on the revenue generated by the sale of alcohol. Muslims and non-drinkers are made to feel bad, and that their decision not to spend money in the bar is somehow putting the club in financial jeopardy. One Muslim interviewed said “if we were involved in the decision-making process of the cricket club, we’d tell them a million different ways they could make revenue, outside of the bar. But they never ask us and we’re not involved”. What a missed opportunity!
Bonding over a beer
The report states that “drinking, as part of a post-match routine or team bonding, has been, and continues to be a consistent feature of cricket, at all levels”. However, the report authors go on to note that a report such as this needs to consider the impact of a drinking culture on those who, for whatever reason, do not want to participate. And the report saw clear evidence that drinking is often seen as a necessary part of ‘fitting in’. This makes those who do not want to drink feel unwelcome. Whether they are actually unwelcome is not the point – if they feel unwelcome, that is a problem. And in my view, a bonding exercise which makes some individuals feel excluded is a bonding exercise that has failed.
Alcohol is behind much of the bad behaviour and sexual harassment in the sport
The report highlights some completely unacceptable alcohol-fuelled behaviour, particularly around the conduct and attitudes of men towards women. There can be no doubt that this is putting women off playing the game. One parent of a young girl is quoted as saying “pissed guys ‘sexting’ my daughter. It’s demeaning and threatening so she stopped playing to avoid being exposed to that crap. How is this even allowed to happen in 2021?”
There is frustration that the men just don’t get it, with a woman recreational player quoted as saying “I went to one social and never went back again, it was horrific, but I stayed playing. Most women go to one social and leave. At the AGM, the men refused to understand the link between alcohol, their behaviour, and the lack of a stable women’s team. It was all just a laugh to them”.
I have little evidence to support this, but my hunch is that that this may be a little worse in cricket than it is in other walks of life where women’s participation is more well-established. It feels as though cricket may still be in its Harvey Weinstein era. There is a clear blue-print for emerging from that – it just needs to happen now, and fast.
You don’t have to be female to dislike the drinking culture
It is not just women who dislike the drinking culture. There are also some men who simply don’t like drinking alcohol, and don’t like the way that the sport revolves around the pub and golf. One former professional player and coach said that he felt he had to attend such events, and he would sometimes pretend to drink, just to fit in. What a ridiculous situation, that a professional sportsman feels he needs to pretend to drink alcohol, just to fit in. This is nuts!
Alcohol can lead to extraordinary depravity
The report found a number of men who felt uncomfortable about the puerile ‘lads’ culture that exists in the game, such as one example of a south Asian player being made to drink urine. This is just disgusting and an example of how alcohol can lead to extraordinarily depravity. It’s a shame that those people who are sober and witness such behaviour do not feel empowered to speak up and put a stop to it. We see these drunken rituals and initiations in universities and other clubs and societies. The research I have done indicates that such initiation rites are also part of the culture in certain police forces – the sooner this is rectified, the better.
Alcohol is seen as part of networking and building relationships
The ECB report refers to the fact that ‘parents socialising over drinks with coaches can help to develop and maintain connections and relationships, from which non-drinking parents are likely to be excluded. That can have an impact, consciously or otherwise, on a child’s prospects of progression’. In other words, there is a very realistic possibility that talented children are being overlooked when it comes to team selection, because the parents of other less talented children have chummed up with the coach over a drink or two. Again, this is nuts. Can we really afford to ignore talented kids in this way?
What is going on in cricket is generally reflected in society at large. I have been helping a young professional man in his 30’s who wants to put alcohol behind him. He sent me a WhatsApp message last Saturday morning saying “ I was tempted by someone asking me for a drink after work yesterday, someone who’s approval I want. That was hard. But I went along and had a nice cold zero beer. Turns out I enjoyed the conversation, and one of the others there followed suit. They didn’t care in the way that my anxiety told me they would”. This guy has, very laudably, decided to zig when many others are zagging. And in doing so, he’s realised that there are actually more zaggers than he realised.
Many Muslims feel excluded because they do not drink alcohol for religious reasons
The culture of drinking within cricket acts as a particular barrier to the inclusion of Muslim communities. As one person said in the report, ‘At club level, there is still a drinking culture so Muslim players are never integrated that well. (There is) peer pressure on young players to join in with the drinking as they don’t feel part of the team otherwise. Most social events are centred around alcohol’.
Even if they do attend functions, those from marginalised communities find themselves bearing the brunt of alcohol-fuelled so-called ‘banter’. They may be called names and ostracised for refusing to drink. Again, this is hardly the stuff of building a strong team ethic! Nor is it unique to cricket, or to sport. This lack of inclusivity is damaging to our society as a whole.
One of the stumbling blocks to better understanding and acceptance is that within the Muslim community, there are different attitudes to alcohol, just as there are different attitudes to going to church amongst Christians. Some very strict Muslims will not be in the same room as someone who is drinking alcohol, others will be happy to stay in the room but won’t partake in any alcohol themselves, and others will actually drink alcohol.
In sport, in business, in life in general, it is important that everyone’s views and beliefs should be accommodated and that no-one should be made to feel uncomfortable or under pressure to do something that they do not want to do. And that includes drinking alcohol.
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