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Women in Westminster: In Conversation With Cindy Butts

5 min read Partner content

In 2023, the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) published its landmark report on the sexism, racism, and classism that have affected cricket for decades. As part of our Women in Westminster series, PoliticsHome sat down with Commission Chair, Cindy Butts, to learn more about why equity is vital in both sport and society

Cindy Butts has spent over 20 years improving access to justice and tackling inequality and discrimination. Across many institutions and sectors, Butts has used her own experiences and insight to advocate for change. From Parliament to the police service, domestic violence to sport, Butts has been forensic and relentless in her work to give voice to those who are too often pushed to the margins.

It seems that Butts was born to be a campaigner for social justice and equality. As she recollects her upbringing, it is clear that the principles that continue to drive her were established early on.

“It started at home with my mum,” she tells PoliticsHome, recalling the roots of her campaigning zeal. “My mum came to the UK in the late 1950s from Guyana and settled in Ladbroke Grove. It was a place where there were a lot of social problems and my mum sort of became a self-appointed community activist. My earliest memories are of her giving voice to those who were rarely heard. That was something that I took on even in my youngest days.”

Butts’ childhood furnished her with not just an insight into the challenges that many people in society face. It also provided her foundational belief in the ability of actions to improve the life chances of people and communities. One gets the impression that, for Butts, it is not enough to simply recognise inequality. What matters is using that insight to deliver tangible change that improves people’s lives.

Today, Butts often has access to key decision-makers. However, what comes across strongly during our sit-down conversation is that she has lost none of the fire that comes from a life advocating for the voiceless.

“You should be able to dine with the Queen one night and go to a Blues party the next,” she tells us, recalling advice her mother gave her. “You take your seat around the table, but you don't lose who you are, your culture, your roots. You stay grounded. Where you see injustice, you don't turn the other cheek. You get involved.”

Butts has certainly “got involved” whilst also opening the door to involve those who have directly experienced discrimination. Whether working in sport, policing, or domestic violence, Butts’ approach has always been to place the experiences of those who are voiceless at the centre of policy discussions.

“Creating public policy without engaging the people who will experience that policy is just poor,” she tells us. “If it's not tapping into that expertise, how will you know you are addressing the right issues in the right way? You risk poor, ineffective, and costly policy.”

That commitment, to engage voices that are not always heard, shaped Butts’ approach in her role as chair of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC). The Commission was formed in late 2020 to both assess the impact of discrimination in all forms of cricket and to identify the actions needed to tackle those issues. It published its landmark report on the state of the game last year.

Butts left no stone unturned during the Commission’s examination of how women, those from minority communities, and working-class players have experienced unacceptable levels of discrimination in cricket for decades.

A keen cricket lover herself, Butts describes her role leading the Commission as “a tough gig.”

“John Major once said, ‘There's more politics in cricket than there is politics in politics’,” she tells us. “And I came to realise throughout our journey, exactly what he meant. But I enjoy working in contested spaces. It's what makes me tick.”

Butts speaks fluently and articulately about cricket, with an acute awareness of the historical forces such as colonialism that have shaped the modern game. But her deep knowledge of and love for the sport is balanced against a recognition that the experiences of many have been unacceptable for many years.

Butts understands the traditions of cricket but sees absolutely no contradiction between balancing respect for history and heritage with championing a more modern and inclusive future for the game.  

“The perspective isn't to be anti-tradition,” she explains. “It’s addressing where those traditions rub up against what is fair. I want to promote a welcoming game that gives people equal access, opportunity to progress, and an opportunity to enjoy the wonders of cricket.”

Butts details the challenges that the Commission uncovered for women, minority communities, and those from working-class backgrounds. For instance, she points to the fact that whilst Eton, Harrow, Oxford, and Cambridge have played at Lords every year since 1805 women have never played a Test match at the so-called “home of cricket.”  

Many of these challenges remain, but the speed and commitment of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in implementing her Commission’s recommendations give her some optimism about the future. She points to recent changes such as the equalisation of women's and men’s match fees, a more independent regulator, and investment in the grassroots game.

“I'm not suggesting that cricket or the ECB have solved everything,” she says, “But I have been quite heartened by the extent of changes that have happened already.”

That sense of optimism is characteristic of a woman who resolutely refuses to set limits in driving positive change that addresses the inequalities that many continue to experience.

“Imagination is the best nation in the world,” she says, reflecting on the advice she often gives others. “That's about thinking big. It’s one thing having to tackle others' perceptions and stereotypes of you. It is quite another if one self-limits. Imagine the best for yourself and set your heights high.”

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