Ebony Rainford-Brent. © ICC

Racism is not new in cricket. While the cases popped out in public too often in men’s game, the ones in women’s cricket never really made it to the fore – the players choosing not to speak about. However, things are changing lately with more women cricketers speaking in public about their experiences being racially abused at some point in their career.

Former Ebony Rainford-Brent on Wednesday (July 8) said she sometimes questioned herself why she remained in the game despite being subjected to racially comments during her career in the sport. “I grew up in a very multicultural, diverse London with all sorts of colours – a melting pot. (But) I noticed as soon as I walked into the world of cricket that comments started,” Rainford-Brent said while speaking alongside former Windies great Michael Holding as part of Sky Sports’ Black Cricketers Matter programme.

Now director of women’s cricket at Surrey and a successful commentator, Rainford-Brent was the first black woman to play for England and was a part of the squads that won the 50-over and T20 World Cups in 2009. She also said that she was ‘drip-fed’ insulting remarks about her ethnicity which led to her suffering from lack of confidence.

“I had comments about where I grew up and how the fact I had a long name meant maybe my mum didn’t know who my dad was. About my hair, body parts, especially the derriere, shall we say? About the food I ate and that it stank. Did I wash my skin? (People saying) everybody in your area gets stabbed. All these sorts of things were drip-fed constantly. It was really difficult for me as a kid,” she added.

“I put on this bravado and I think my personality has developed to an extent to be jovial and bat it off. I never had the confidence to turn around and tell people to get lost and deal with it. I took it on internally and I think it wore away at my confidence for a lot of my early years.

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“I have been in team environments dealing with people constantly referring to ‘your lot’. When things would happen, like Barack Obama becoming president of the USA, having a paper thrown down in front of my face and saying, ‘your lot must be happy’. The constant drip-drip was tough. I am not surprised people (of colour) who come into the environment don’t want to deal with that – I questioned myself sometimes why I stayed so long.”

Dealing with such things day in and day out is really difficult for any player, and for the 36-year-old, who played 22 ODIs and seven T20Is between 2001 and 2010, it was a bittersweet representing England. “Making your debut for your country is an incredible experience. I remember getting my cap from Charlotte Edwards and it was pretty special,” she said.

“For it to hit me that I was the first (black woman to play for England), I felt a mixture of emotions – proud on one hand but also a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable. It took me a long time to really feel comfortable owning that because I wanted there to be more, I didn’t want to be the only one. It’s something I still feel a little bit plagued by now,” she added. Even Holding came close to tears talking about some of his experiences with racism and said the society must change.

Being one of the few from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background, Rainford-Brent feels ‘structural problems’ in sport as a whole should be addressed. “In our world of sport, people say there aren’t any inequalities but you start to look around at people in positions of power,” she said.

“Statistics have come out that there are almost zero black people in any boards in our governing bodies. What does that say? Then you look at the grassroots level and cricket, rugby, golf, tennis, you name it. There are no opportunities for people coming through. There are structural problems,” she concluded.