Umpire chief axed over Devon Malcolm 'racism slur' had been previously suspended

Devon Malcolm - GETTY IMAGES
Devon Malcolm - GETTY IMAGES

The umpires’ manager suspended by the England & Wales Cricket Board over an alleged racist slur about Devon Malcolm had previously been stood down following “serious complaints” from colleagues.

Chris Kelly, accused of making a jibe earlier this season about being unable to see the England player-turned-match-referee until he smiles, was suspended in 2020 over complaints from “a lot of people” that included “bullying” behaviour.

John Holder, who sued the ECB that same year after claiming his own umpiring career had been cut short due to “institutionalised racism” there, told Telegraph Sport he had been among the complainants and that then chief executive Tom Harrison had confirmed at the time Kelly had been stood down pending the outcome of an investigation.

Holder said: “He was actually suspended because there were some serious accusations but the then chief executive told us that, although there were some serious complaints by a lot of people, some of the other umpires stood up for him.”

The 77-year-old branded Kelly’s position untenable if the slur against one of English cricket’s most popular figures had been made.

“Lots of people come out and say they’re not racist but they’re always making racist comments,” Holder said. “To come and make comments about Devon Malcolm’s colour is racist.”

He also said such a comment would vindicate his accusation of “institutionalised racism” at the ECB.

Any racist slur by Kelly about Malcolm would make a mockery of the governing body’s commitment to a “diverse and inclusive officiating system” and completely undermine its bid to draw a line under the crisis to engulf the game following Yorkshire’s botched handling of the Azeem Rafiq affair.

The shocking comment about Malcolm was alleged to have been made around a year after the ECB announced him as one of five new appointments to its match referee panel.

It did so after being sued by Holder and fellow former official Ismail Dawood, who also claimed his career had been cut short due to “institutionalised racism” there.

Holder and Dawood, who pointed out no ethnic minority umpires had been appointed to the ECB’s first-class panel since 1992 and that there had been no non-white representation on it since 2010, withdrew their employment claims days after the appointments of Malcolm and fellow former England fast bowler Dean Headley.

Malcolm, who played 40 Tests for England after emigrating from his native Jamaica in 1979 – including claiming a memorable nine for 57 against South Africa at The Oval in 1994 – was added to the ECB’s match referee supplementary panel six months after telling Telegraph Sport he had been twice knocked back in his bid to become an umpire during the past two decades.

“You look at the whole thing and think, ‘Was it deliberate?’,” he said at the time.

Dawood added: “The language I have heard over the years has been horrendous, words such as P---, c---, n----- featured from individuals attached to the ECB. Some of this language was used in front of senior ECB managers, which I found extremely disturbing.

“Having worked in different progressive sectors to cricket, I feel the ECB is the last colonial outpost, it is archaic, and any change is mere marketing rhetoric. The glass ceiling is incredibly low for BAME individuals, with systematic racism at the heart. I feel I have encountered racial discrimination, dishonesty and misinformation, cronyism, bullying, all which is deep rooted in the organisation. It was an isolating place for a person from a BAME background.”

After Holder and Dawood withdrew their employment claims, the ECB said: “The ECB is committed to a world-class diverse and inclusive officiating system, with opportunities for all.”

Kelly could not be reached for comment on Saturday night, while the ECB and Harrison declined to comment.