Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Jo Stevens MP interview

Jo Stevens MP is a lifelong cricket fan. As well as being the MP for Cardiff Central she is also the Shadow Minister for the Digital Media, Culture and Sport department (DCMS). We have tried to speak with Oliver Dowden for weeks with regards to the return of amateur cricket and have not had an answer. So we asked the opposition who agreed to speak with The Middle Stump within an hour of us asking. Read on to hear how Jo sympathises with the 700,000 amateur club cricketers in the UK, her worries about the future of grass roots participation and a teenage crush on Viv Richards…

Jo Stevens...Glamorgan fan
TMS: Jo, this must be the pinnacle of your career being interviewed by The Middle Stump?

JS: Absolutely. I like nothing more than cricket chat and it is my first interview in this job on sport so nowhere more fitting to do so than with The Middle Stump.

TMS: You have been a cricket fan for years haven’t you?

JS: Yes, since childhood. My grandad loved cricket, then my mum got involved and it passed down the generations from there. I’ve got two sons and my youngest played for Wales before he discovered girls.

TMS: I want to talk to you about club cricket at present and the lack of it. Firstly, can you tell our readership what the role of the DCMS is?

JS: Yes. DCMS is a government department that includes sport. My role in Labour’s Shadow Cabinet is to scrutinise the government’s work in this area.  I work closely with my team of shadow ministers that includes Alison McGovern MP, the Shadow Sports Minister who is a huge Liverpool fan. Needless to say she is fairly happy at the moment. Alison is learning about cricket from me and likewise, I’m learning a lot about Liverpool FC.

TMS: So the DCMS is not a cross party committee then?

JS: No. We are the official opposition to the government. There is a cross party committee in Parliament on sport which I used to be a member of for several years. Last year we had the ECB in to discuss the state of the game, including the Hundred, and funding. It was a robust session to say the least. I’m not sure how popular I was after that meeting, but I’ve continued my discussions with Tom Harrison since.

TMS: We saw scenes of a packed Bournemouth Beach last week but twenty two blokes can’t go and play in a wide open space. Why?

JS: I don’t know. It’s illogical why it hasn’t returned. Next weekend you can go to pubs, go to shops, even play other sports but there has been no logical explanation from the government as to why club cricket hasn’t returned.

TMS: Do you think there has been enough clarity from the DCMS?

JS: In the wider context of the COVIS crisis, communication has been poor. When you ask people to do things, or not do things, you have to give people a reason behind it. Those reasons and explanations have been lacking apart from with elite sport. It’s illogical why certain sports are allowed but not club cricket or badminton for instance. Why? We’ve asked lots of questions but there has been a real lack of clarity.

Boris with a 'vector of disease' according to no scientific evidence

TMS: Boris described a cricket ball as a “vector of disease”. Why?

JS: It was a ridiculous comment. I asked a question in Parliament about this. I asked for the scientific evidence that confirmed what the Prime Minister had said. The reply I got ignored that request and I told was that the government was working with the ECB to understand the unique qualities of cricket. There is shared equipment in lots of sports but no scientific evidence has been published to back up what the Prime Minister claimed.

TMS: Michael Vaughan, Zak Crawley and Greg Clark MP have all pushed for a return of club cricket. Do you think the amateur game has been forgotten about?

JS: I think it has. The focus has been entirely on the elite game where the broadcasting money is.. What frustrates me though is that we’ve all been stuck at home, people are anxious, want to get out and exercise and keep healthy. Amateur sport is the way that people keep healthy. There are so many benefits to it.

TMS: Why has the professional game been allowed to start and yet the club game is no further forward? Is it purely and simply down to money?

JS: I think it is. It’s great to see the professional game back, don’t get me wrong and there are biosecurity protocols in place there so we can watch international cricket this year. However there has been guidance to open shops, guidance to get people back to work, yet this huge hole for amateur cricket. All the attention within government has been focussed on other things. What would be nice is a date that we can look forward to returning, people can plan then. No one in amateur cricket can do that at present.

TMS: Professional football has started which is a contact sport yet amateur cricket can’t. Why is this?
JS: Absolutely no rationale behind that at all is there? You’d think cricket is one of the more socially distanced games, I suppose it might depend on who is bowling? I would have thought that it would be one of the earliest sports to reopen but then there is not as much money in there as in football. The people with the most money often shout the loudest and are heard.

TMS: Why are government advisors allowed to travel 250 miles in a car to Durham yet I can’t go and play an away game five minutes down the road?

JS: Ha. You said it. Maybe if Dominic Cummings was a keen cricketer then we’d be back playing right now, as Dominic tends to get what he wants. I think that whole episode influenced behaviour and there has been a consequence to his actions.

TMS: Pubs and Barbers will be open next week. As we said before “we can get a hair cut but we can’t square cut”. Can you see why club cricketers are so frustrated at the moment?

JS: Completely. I can see games popping up all over the place because people have run out of patience. I go out on my bike most evenings for exercise and see games happening between kids. Games will pop up randomly and not in an organised way which offers a greater risk of not being safe. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to go to the pub but I’d like to go to the pub and watch cricket too.

Dowden,,,silence from the DCMS regarding club cricket

TMS: How important are cricket clubs to their communities?

JS: Hugely important. Not just for players but for families who go to their local club, for the kids and the whole community. So much is work done behind the scenes by the Chairs of clubs, by Treasurers and others and it is the whole community who get involved. I don’t play, I’d be awful but if I get one minute of spare time, I’d go and watch. If we don’t move quickly then the season will be gone for these clubs and with what is going on in the economy with job losses, memberships are likely to be down as people will struggle. Cricket clubs are important social institutions in people’s lives.

TMS: Do you think that the procrastination from the DCMS will have an impact on numbers playing in years to come?

JS: There is a big risk and having a youngest son who used to play, I know how fickle kids can sometimes be and lose interest and move on to the next thing. They miss a year and go and do stuff elsewhere. I worry about grass roots participation – will people have to take extra jobs at weekends to survive and so don’t have the time to play? You do worry if it is sustainable and whether it will thrive in the future. There has been huge progress in the Women’s game in recent years but I worry it will be the first to suffer. . It is often the case that the children’s and the women’s games are more at risk – the low hanging fruits.

TMS: Have the ECB been proactive enough with regards to getting the amateur game on?

JS: Hmmm. Good question. The ECB could possibly have done more. They have made important strides in recent years and I commend them for what they have done with regards to the Women’s game but I don’t know if they have put a strong enough case forward or just haven’t been listened to by the government. It’s the government that makes the decision about whether amateur clubs can play and when. Maybe the decision has been made but the announcement is stuck in the No 10 sausage machine.

TMS: Finally, your best three players?

JS: Ben Stokes, Kane Williamson and Elyse Perry. But but but…Sir Vivian Richards is my favourite of all time. Partly because I had a crush on him as a teenager but he was such a brilliant batsman; totally destructive whatever the bowling attack and I loved the swagger. He joined Glamorgan the year after I moved to Cardiff and I thought that I had died and gone to heaven. Not only was he playing for Glamorgan, but I’d see him in the pub just up the road from me opposite Sophia Gardens. He only then went and led Glamorgan to their first piece of silverware for 24 years so that sealed it for me. 

Finally, club cricket has a politician that is listening to us.