ACROSS Britain, sports bodies are queueing to sign the ‘Muslim Athlete Pledge’, an initiative launched in June 2021 by a group called Nujum Sports which aims ‘to see a world where Muslim athletes flourish and fulfil their potentials’, and supported by the Football Supporters’ Association and Kick it Out. Signatories so far include a host of Premier League and EFL clubs, the Welsh FA, the Rugby Football League, the English Cricket Board, and Lancashire and Middlesex County Cricket Clubs.
The latest is Sussex County Cricket Club, the oldest first-class county, which I’ve followed since boyhood. As I discovered when I searched its website recently, the club vows, through the new charter, to ‘build an environment and culture that actively supports Muslim athletes’.
Sussex has, like many other counties, employed several Pakistani players over the years, notably that country’s greatest player and captain, Imran Khan, and arguably its finest batsman, Javed Miandad, as well as Mushtaq Ahmed and currently Mohammad Rizwan. Not so long ago, such a recruitment record would have spoken for itself. In today’s Diversity and Inclusion climate, and with home-bred Muslim players entering professional sport, it’s merely a jumping-off point.
The pledge, which you can see here, could scarcely be accused of timidity. The word ‘actively’ is key: clubs are required to ‘set out the baseline they are starting from, set targets with timeframes to improve their provision of services and care, and lay out what steps they will take to achieve their goals’. For its part, Nujum Sports supplies a ‘suite of toolkits to help organisations realise those targets’, and will ‘profile pledge organisations, with their permission, through blogs and social media’.
There are ten specific employer obligations, starting with providing Muslim athletes with ‘appropriate places to pray, whenever training, travelling or participating in competition’. Next come dietary considerations: ‘Muslim athletes will be provided halal food whenever food is prepared for all athletes. This includes while travelling and at any venue [where] they are competing.’
Sartorial needs are also met. Athletes ‘will be provided with alternative clothing should they request it, and if they believe it contradicts their spiritual or ethical beliefs’. Meanwhile, clubs will be ‘informed about the non-consumption of alcohol for Muslim athletes. This is particularly important when celebrating performances with colleagues, which sometimes include the distribution and spraying of alcohol’.
The process starts before the players even set foot in the club. They ‘will be consulted in advance regarding their faith-based needs when joining the organisation’, and provided with ‘spiritual help and support if requested’, including ‘access to a local Muslim chaplain’. They will be ‘allowed to attend Friday midday prayers at a mosque when they are not competing or travelling’, and ‘to fast during the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. Their nutritional needs will be discussed in advance before the commencement of Ramadan’.
Additionally, Muslims ‘will be allowed to withdraw from non-Muslim religious celebrations which the organisation partakes in’, and ‘given space to express their views on their faith without judgement’. For Sussex, presumably all of this will be explained further when newly appointed head coach Paul Farbrace and his players attend an ‘educational workshop’ at the County Ground in Hove in March. It’s unclear whether the club’s Indian overseas player, Cheteshwar Pujara, a Hindu, will be present.
For good measure, the pledge notes the four most important topics that Muslim fans would like their clubs ‘potentially’ to adopt. These are halal food in stadiums for fans, a prayer zone for fans, an alcohol-free zone for fans, and dialogue with the local Muslim community.
You can’t blame the pledge authors for aiming high. With woke attitudes spreading – through ideology and fear – into boardrooms everywhere, they must feel that they’re pushing at an open door.
Perhaps I’m being ignorant, or exhibiting unconscious bias, but I’m not aware of sports clubs in Somalia, Pakistan or India vowing support for Christian athletes. It would be handsome if they did. Then again, the brave brethren living in these places possibly have other things on their minds, such as forced conversions and displacements, blasphemy laws and church-burning.
I scoured the charter in vain for any allusion to integration or assimilation. Sadly, under the guise of inclusiveness, separation appears to be the governing principle. It seems a curious means of nurturing a team ethos, or for that matter a cohesive society. In England, which invented the game, I’d just like to watch a good game of cricket in a traditional environment, if that’s all right. Set against the dream of, and rules for, creating a multi-cultural utopia, it clearly isn’t.
So, my message to Sussex CEO Rob Andrew is simple, if doubtless futile. Cricketer-warriors of all backgrounds, yes please. Social justice warriors, including self-appointed community leaders, no thank you. The odd hapless batsman will bag a ‘pair’ in the coming season. Off the field, it’s time for you and your peers to grow one.