Saj Sadiq describes his recent uncomfortable experiences as an accredited journalist during the recently concluded England versus Pakistan series.
By Saj Sadiq (27th July, 2021)
My earliest memory of international cricket goes back to July 1987 at Leeds and being in absolute awe of Imran Khan running in from the Kirkstall Lane end at Headingley and destroying the England batting line-up. His run-up, the jump just before he delivered the ball, his bowling action, charisma, his aggression, the way he led his team, it was a sight to behold from close quarters and I was hooked. Pakistan thanks to Imran, was definitely my team for the future.
Back then as a teenager, if somebody had said to me that one day, I would get the opportunity to interview Imran Khan and many other legends of Pakistan and international cricket, I would have said that they were talking absolute nonsense.
My love for the game, especially Pakistan cricket developed through the late 1980s and 90s. One thing I did realise even back then was that following Pakistan cricket was not for the faint-hearted. The highs were unparalleled, the lows were devastating, controversies plenty and there were rarely any quiet days.
In 1999 I stumbled across a website called PakPassion where a handful of people were discussing the crazy world of Pakistan cricket. I joined the site and to my amazement a few weeks later I was contacted by the owners asking to take over the running of the site as they no longer had the time to oversee the site administration. They informed me that if I didn’t take over then that would be the end of the website, which saddened me as I thought the website had potential. I said that I would try it for a couple of weeks and see how things went – well 22 years later I am still there as the site owner, although PakPassion of today is a different beast and a much better-known website and forum than it was back in 1999. To quote my wife “you spend more time working on that damn website, than you do with me.” She’s probably right, it’s a labour of love.
My first experience of press accreditation came in 2009 with the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in England. What an introduction, what a tournament, what an experience, oh what memories. I attended nearly all of Pakistan’s matches in that tournament culminating in a memorable final at Lord’s. I had to pinch myself when I was at the packed post-match press conference asking a Pakistan-flag draped Younis Khan a question. It will always be a moment to savour and appreciate.
The ICC and the ECB have always been good to me and I have never had any problems in receiving accreditation, because I have never messed them around and always attended the matches that I have said that I will. They don’t ask for much, other than adhering to their rules and guidelines, being professional and I have always done that.
Every year since 2009, I have applied for and been granted accreditation by ECB or ICC, sometimes both depending on the scheduled fixtures. The 2017 Champions Trophy tournament is a competition that will always be close to the heart for obvious reasons. Attending the post-final press conferences at The Oval after the final will always be cherished memories. The 2019 World Cup tournament was also an interesting competition for many reasons. Pakistan’s tours of England are of course always fascinating and enjoyable to cover for so many different reasons.
Over the years I have been lucky enough to write for some great platforms such as Sky Sports Cricket, Wisden, The Cricketer, The Cricket Paper, INews and more. I have also had the honour and privilege to appear on Radio and Television, including TMS, BBC World Service, TalkSport, Sky Sports and others. I’ve made some great friends in the media and sitting alongside and chatting with some of the world’s leading cricket journalists has been a real pleasure.
There has been the occasional incident since 2009 at various grounds where I have come across an individual or two who has been a bit difficult to deal with and rather rude. But I have always put that down to job pressures, or perhaps them being new to their respective role. However, this year where I attended 4 matches between England and Pakistan was on a different level altogether and I felt I needed to speak up about my experiences.
Things didn’t get off to a great start at the first match I attended. My parking was supposed to have been organised but upon arrival I was hastily told that I wasn’t allowed in the car park as I didn’t have a pass. I informed the attendant that I had an email which confirmed my parking approval, which he simply would not accept. I showed him the email several times, but it may as well have been written in some obscure language. After going around in circles with him I asked him to phone the ECB contact to check, which for some unknown reason he was reluctant to do. I was then asked to pull my car over to the side and told that I would have to turn around and park elsewhere as it was not their problem. Frustrating, unnecessary, you bet! Anyway, to my amazement I heard another parking attendant say to his colleague, let him in, he has the email which shows he has approval, we’ve done that for others. Finally, some belated consistency and much-needed common sense and I was let in, but not before some glares, checking, re-checking of my press pass and head-shaking from the parking staff. It was almost as if this brown man with his press pass was breaking their parking rules.
Match 2 that I attended was even worse. I approached the media car park only to be told from a distance that I couldn’t park there and that I needed to quickly turn my car around. I approached the car park staff member and told him that I had received confirmation via email that I was allowed to park in this car park. The attendant said that can’t be right as I wasn't in the media. How he could tell I wasn’t media from such a distance was beyond me. I moved my car closer to him and showed him the email from ECB regarding my parking and then also showed him my press pass. His immediate response was “your press pass looks fake and I could easily make such a press pass at home.” At first, I laughed as I thought the gentleman was just joking, but the look on his face suggested otherwise. I was absolutely gobsmacked with his attitude and his tone. He then took a long and hard look at my press, presumably in the hope that he could spot a flaw in it. I showed him the email from ECB again which he scrutinised and even then, he wasn’t convinced. Eventually he reluctantly said he would let me in this time, but that I needed to be more careful next time. More careful of what, I am not sure of. I guess this was a case of the brown man with his ‘fake’ pass parking where he shouldn’t be.
I walked to the ground with my head still a bit frazzled after the earlier events and thought maybe the parking attendant was just having a bad day. But then another incident took place after taking my seat in the press box. One of the members of staff from the County was sitting in the press box and I noticed he was looking regularly in my direction. Initially I thought maybe he wanted to discuss something but he remained silent. I got up a few times ahead of play to walk out of the press box and I noticed he was really scrutinising the press pass that I was wearing around my neck. By the third time I purposely slowed right down as I walked past him and raised my press pass in his direction to show that it was genuine and that I had every right to be sat in the press box. He seemed a bit embarrassed that I had to do this, but at least this had the desired effect of the funny looks and curious stares stopping. I suppose this was a case of why is this brown man sat in our press box.
So, we come to my third England versus Pakistan match this summer. By this time, I was getting used to some of the strange looks and incidents, but hoped that there wouldn’t be any more and that things would run a lot smoother. Well, this time there were no issues with the parking, but when I came to enter the stadium, I was asked to show that I had a negative Covid-19 test within the last 24 hours. I produced my phone and showed the member of staff a text confirming this. To my surprise the member of staff said this was not acceptable and I needed to show another proof of a negative test or I will not be allowed entry to the ground. I then showed the staff member an email confirming the negative test. Once again, the member of staff stated this wasn’t acceptable. I explained that at every other ground I had shown either the text or the email which clearly stated who I was, when the test was taken and whether it was negative or not, and this was acceptable. He wasn’t having any of it and at one point took my phone off me. It was a stalemate and I suggested he call his supervisor to intervene, because I had the necessary evidence to show my negative Covid-19 test and didn’t really know what else I could do to prove this to him. He asked me to step aside and not dare to enter the ground, but then for some unknown reason he had a change of heart, probably because he didn’t want to look like a buffoon in front of his supervisor. He offered no apology for his rude tone or delaying me. Anyway, I started to enter the ground and whilst my bag was being checked I noticed right behind me others showing exactly the same text message and emails that I had shown as proof of a negative test, being allowed into the ground by the same member of staff, with the words “please come through sir, please go through madam.” I guess this was the case of the brown man with his dodgy Covid-19 result.
But things didn’t end there during the third match. I approached the media entry area and noticed members of staff sat outside with a list of names. I gave them my details and the response was the now all too familiar “you are not on the list, so you cannot enter the media area.” Deep breath and once again get the phone out to show that I am accredited media and entitled to enter the media centre. After several minutes of discussions, going around in circles, explaining the same things again and again and again, I was reluctantly allowed to enter the media centre, but not before the words, “can you be more careful next time with this” were said in a rather patronising tone in my direction. I’m not quite sure what I needed to be more careful of if I’m being honest. I guess this was the case of the brown man with his dodgy accreditation not being careful enough.
And so we thankfully came to the final match between England and Pakistan this summer. By now I approached the car park and media area with trepidation given the events of the previous days. Nothing would have surprised me any more and to be honest it was getting rather frustrating, tiresome and predictable. Once again it was the expected strange looks and the “you are not on the list, are you really media” comments which you sort of get used to and have to bite your lip at. For the umpteenth time, I pointed in the direction of my pass on display around my neck, my phone came out, evidence was produced to show my accreditation, evidence to show that I had a parking spot at the ground. This was followed by the usual checks, strange looks, more checks, discussions amongst colleagues, a few whispers in my direction and then the reluctant, you can go through. I guess this was the case of the brown man not on the list, but we have to let him in.
As if things couldn’t get any worse at this particular venue, I was walking around the ground in the stands taking pictures and videos well before the start of play as I always do. At one point I was approached by a steward who said I couldn’t stand where I was. I was standing out of the way, not blocking anyone’s view, not posing any sort of safety risk to anyone so I was a little confused why he was suggesting what he was. I politely asked him why I needed to move, his response, because you don’t belong in this stand. I pointed to my media accreditation and explained to the steward that the pass allowed me to be where I was at that time, which I thought had resolved the misunderstanding on his part. Anyway, a few minutes later the steward returned with a burly and rather intimidating member of security staff by his side. I heard the words, “he is claiming to be media, but I don’t believe him.” The security staff member approached me and even before asking to see my accreditation, said “you are claiming to be media, but you need to move from there, as you are not media.” I responded by stating what I had earlier to his colleague, that my press pass allowed me to be where I was at that time. The member of security staff then started to glare at my pass and at me as if he wanted some sort of reaction. I calmly carried on taking my pictures and videos before leaving the area. I guess this was the case of the brown man being told off for standing in an area of the ground that he was allowed to be in.
I’m not saying that every journalist of colour necessarily goes through the same issues I have this year and I’m not saying that every incident or issue was definitely due to the colour of my skin. But 4 matches on the bounce with some pretty unnecessary, distasteful and derogatory comments is not just coincidental and something had to be said about it. In the past I may have let this go, but given that there is so much talk and several initiatives about encouraging people from ethnic minorities to participate in all aspects of cricket, I feel that the message is a hypocritical one. There is a clear problem in how people from ethnic minorities particularly in areas of cricket where they are underrepresented are treated at some stadiums and it needs addressing.
Do those who are running cricket in England and the people in charge of these stadiums genuinely want more people from ethnic minorities to get involved in the sport? Do they condone such behaviour again and again from their employees or contractors? Will something be done about it, or will such behaviour just be brushed under the carpet and allowed to continue as if nothing ever happened?