It’s vital that those of us who work in public transport don’t think that what occurred in cricket isn’t happening in our own backyard


Yorkshire County Cricket Club is facing the biggest crisis in its history now that the allegations made by former player Azeem Rafiq have reached the public domain. Officialdom and players, past and present have been implicated, and the scandal has unlocked other appalling accusations of racism in the game, most notably at Essex. It’s been particularly sad for those of us, such as I, who are ardent supporters of the county game. I wasn’t entirely surprised. Way back in 1993 I found myself sitting on the Committee Balcony at Scarborough and I overheard racist language to describe my hero, Middlesex batsman Mark Ramprakash.

The appalling situation at Yorkshire is relevant to the transport industry and I am sure I wasn’t the only person who became unnerved, wondering whether I’d witnessed the same prejudice within our own sector during my career. Similarly, I have started wondering to what extent some of the casual racism and exclusion that Rafiq and others in cricket encountered may have been experienced by transport professionals in their workplace. Did we only learn of what occurred at Yorkshire because cricketers are ‘stars’ – not huge ones, in the overall scheme of stardom, but more so than your average person on the gateline, ticket office or working in accounts at your local bus company? The dynamics of a working environment tend to be ‘much of a muchness’ and whilst you might expect a highly charged dressing room with young, impressionable and immature sportsmen to be more susceptible to stupidity than an office or depot with a range of experience and less competitiveness, it’s not really different.

The perverse ‘benefit’ of what Rafiq has articulated (if it can be described in any favourable way) is the way in which he opens up to how he felt when in situations whereby the perpetrators clearly had no idea of the hurt they were inflicting. The same for others who were then spurred into action to also reveal similar treatment meted out to them. It seems inconceivable given the sheer scale of workplace environments that exist across the UK public transport landscape, the number of employees in our profession and the breadth of co-habiting cultures, that what has been reported in two out of only 18 county cricket establishments, has not manifested itself in our depots, canteens, offices, stations and trains.

Anyone with exposure to transport workplaces will also be aware that routinely on a daily basis, interactions can be negative, poorly transmitted and lacking emotional engagement, made by people who, it could be said, are not as privileged in terms of education, mentoring and background as your average county cricketer (who almost entirely benefit from a public school education). I’ve lost count, for instance, when carrying out training courses, of the number of gripes about insensitive ‘greetings’ by bus depot allocators to drivers when they book on for duty (that set the tone for the whole day), through to outright hostility among on-board employees around who is or isn’t pulling their weight when serving customers. I’m not suggesting that a significant amount of these interactions are racist, more so that the transport sector, particularly during pressured situations such as when delays ensue, is a hotbed of fractious and rancorous touchpoints, when words and body language are misconstrued and where some on the receiving end may feel excluded and prejudiced due to their ethnicity, gender or sexuality.

Forgive me please for taking this a step further and being so contentious as to suggest that, at this moment in time, at every bus or rail depot and medium sized station (where there are, say, more than three or four employees under the same roof) there is either a ‘live’ grievance relating to prejudice (more often ‘race-related’), or at the very least an unreported situation whereby an employee is feeling that she or he is suffering some kind of bias. Any duty manager will tell you that their ‘to do’ list consists almost entirely of managing employee attendance, performance and investigating claims of prejudice. It was the same when I joined the industry nearly 30 years ago and it’s more so now, partly because (pleasingly) folk are more encouraged to call out unacceptable behaviour.

During my career, workplaces have reverberated to ‘banter’ around sex and booze, casual bullying and alienation, which, perhaps I like others, in my early years, observed but didn’t confront

I do, though, believe that progress has been made. During my career, workplaces have reverberated to ‘banter’ around sex and booze, casual bullying and alienation, which, perhaps I like others, in my early years, observed but didn’t confront. The ‘only’ instances of racism I’ve witnessed have been junior managers mimicking frontline employees in a way that was clearly mocking a demeanour linked to their background. And I’ve been on the receiving end of an allegation of racism which was unfounded and deeply upsetting to me – several years ago. I demoted a manager who was proven to be incompetent at his role and he claimed I did it on the grounds of his race. The investigation proved that the claims were totally unfounded, though it is a hugely complex issue.

Another manager felt that I was excluding him because he thought that he was the last person I always spoke to when entering a crowded room. He was a quiet sort and I may have inadvertently done this because I gravitated to those who wanted a chat, but in truth I never had the slightest clue that I was doing this or he might be feeling this way. It was a valuable life-lesson at the fledgling stage of my career.

So, what should the industry do with the Yorkshire County Cricket Club scandal? Firstly, I think it must do the deepest of soul-searching to ask itself if, in any shape or form, there are any workplace environments that might have or be demonstrating such behaviours. The cricketing authorities have responded by pleading with current and former players to come forward with anything they’ve experienced or witnessed through various confidential channels. We should do likewise and we should support this with more visual messaging in and around our workplaces.

Whilst increasing the visuals, we must be more selective in terms of messaging ‘for message’s sake’. I see and hear a great deal on LinkedIn, at conferences, in recruitment panels and at awards about ‘diversity and inclusion’. Individuals are lauded for being active diversity champions, which is, to an extent, good, but it has created a ‘me, me, me’ outlook – of people making the odd statement here and there to shove it on their CV or in a press release, without ever having the conviction, patience and complexity of thought to then carry it forward to enact genuine change. Until we start talking about diversity and inclusion in a genuine, passionate, instinctive way and with conviction to then do the legwork on an action plan to address the challenge, then all rhetoric is futile.

We ought to start getting impatient about focus groups. Too often, I see PowerPoint presentations ticking the diversity and inclusion box by saying they have a focus group. These sessions tend to consist of a cross section of folk (hand-picked to satisfy a quota by gender and race) saying how bad it is and then agreeing to do something but no one actually stepping forward. Plans are made, but the actions are so woolly and intangible it’s impossible to hold anyone to account, and one meeting can lurch to another without anything crystalising. Again, too much talk and not enough action.

I’d like us to also animatedly celebrate the positives. I’m not just saying in terms of press releases, posters or other communications materials, but just in terms of chatting among ourselves. I often affectionately think of how great it was as a 22-year old manager (who had lived a cossetted lifestyle – schooled in affluent, white, middle-class Chislehurst, then studying English in a similar environment at University College London, still living at home with Mum and Dad in Orpington), when I genuinely had my first real exposure to multi-cultural England as a duty station manager at London Underground. In one single shift I went from ticket office to ticket office and each member of staff had cooked a different recipe dinner from all manner of countries from which they had their roots and each offered me a taste. I had never really understood remotely anything about Islam until I witnessed staff on a prayer mat in one messroom and I remember being completely shocked. I don’t know why!

Another happy memory is as recent as 2019 when in one single customer service training course I led for First Bus drivers in Berkshire, there was a total of 38 languages commanded in the room. In my exalted position of ‘facilitator’, I could only speak English! Every transport professional will have their own wonderful tales of cultural enlightenment – I ask you all to reflect on these and share them with a colleague! Spreading positivity can help do its bit to crush any simmering or prevailing prejudice out there.

There should be quantifiable targets around the gender and ethnicity mix of their teams

The sector also needs proper metrics around diversity and inclusion. It’s heartening to listen to the Department for Transport’s market engagement days for the launch of the new Passenger Service Contracts in rail and a suggestion that success criteria for operators will include their focus on diversity. I fear, though, that this all sounds good in the theoretical phase but when a train company is grappling with getting trains on time and making the numbers stack up, there’s unlikely to be a challenging conversation between DfT or GBR and them around the extent to which they are representing the make-up of the communities that they serve. There should be quantifiable targets around the gender and ethnicity mix of their teams. Not dissimilarly, other KPIs should exist, such as the employee satisfaction survey results to questions that relate to awareness around diversity and inclusion and the extent to which folk feel that the company policy around this key subject is being lived and breathed. So too, companies should be targeted around the number of grievances relating to prejudice.

It’s been interesting to see how, in the aftermath of the cricket scandal, clubs have been sending those who have been accused of racism on diversity and inclusion training courses. This is an excellent step and also ensures that individuals aren’t traduced or punished for life and are given the opportunity to mend their ways. However, I confess I’ve never had visibility of such courses in transport. Sadly, it feels as if it will take the transport sector to suffer its own cricketing equivalent scandal before these kinds of courses become an integral part of the landscape.

The Yorkshire scandal was outrageous, but from such an unedifying affair positive change can emerge. Such change can be far-reaching, transcending cricket and it’s vital that us lot in transport don’t think that what occurred in cricket isn’t happening within our own backyard. We all know that somewhere across our huge network it is, but it’s not come to the fore, mainly because our industry is not seen as such a newsworthy subject as professional sport and also because we’ve not had our own Azeem Rafiq to blow the whistle just yet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alex Warner has over 28 years’ experience in the transport sector, having held senior roles on a multi-modal basis across the sector

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

DON’T MISS OUT – GET YOUR COPY! – click here to subscribe!