On Race and Player Eligibility in the VDCA
I am a member of the Victoria District Cricket Association (VDCA) here in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. Given the relative popularity of the sport here in Canada the association and it's members are made up largely of expats from cricket-playing nations such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and so on. The standard of play varies wildly from team to team, and the grounds are made up of mostly synthetic wickets laid over gravel - a far cry from the carefully curated turf wickets I was accustomed to growing up in Australia. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time getting back into cricket, but the standard here most closely resembles that of a 2nd/3rd grade competition in the small town where I grew up. Sadly my personal performances here have underscored that I'm a good baseball player, but that's a topic for another post.
Two main competitions are run here. Division 1 is played on weekends and is the closest to "serious cricket" we get here in Victoria. It's a limited overs format, 45-overs per side, played in colored kit with a white ball. Division 2 in contrast is a midweek competition designed to grow the game; 12-16 overs per side, drinking beers is encouraged, new players are welcomed and experienced players are included ostensibly to show the newcomers the ropes. There are limits on length of bowler runups, no LBW decisions and the bowling of short balls is definitely frowned upon. In short, it's a hit and a giggle, as my father would have said. In recent times, certain clubs have stacked their Division 2 sides with high quality players from Division 1, necessitating rules that limit Division 1 players' participation in Division 2 competition. This has been done in order to preserve the original spirit of Division 2, which is to grow the game and welcome newcomers into an enjoyable environment that encourages development.
These player eligibility rules are based primarily around performances in Division 1. Currently players are split into two "tiers". Tier 1 players have scored more than 150 runs or taken more than 10 wickets in weekend competition. Tier 2 players have not. Each Division 2 team is limited to only a single Tier 1 player for a given season, in order to maintain balance and preserve the spirit of the competition. These numbers are low by design - good players should exceed them easily, thus limiting their impact in the midweek competition.
Given this, I've become concerned at the level of petty politics and backstabbing that goes on within the organization, especially so given the mediocre standard of play. Becoming more involved with the day-to-day operations of the organization over the last year has really opened my eyes to the extreme measures some members will take in order to cling to the minimal power and prestige that comes with running a village cricket organization in a country that overwhelmingly couldn't give two shits about the sport.
Recently allegations have surfaced from certain quarters that the player eligibility rules in place for Division 2 are racist and designed to disadvantage those of East-Indian or Asian descent. In this post I will prove that this is simply a function of the underlying demographics of the association and the Division 1 competition.
First let's look at the breakdown of white vs. non-white members of the VDCA. I've included only active players as of the current season in this breakdown.
Total players: 338
White players: 145 ( 43% )
Non-white players: 193 ( 57% )
Even at the association level there is a slight demographic bias. This stands to reason when you consider the overall demographics of Victoria and BC as a whole, as well as the intersection of those demographics with traditional cricket-playing nations. We expect non-white players to be slightly over-represented for this reason.
Division 1 Demographics
The above numbers include players who play Division 1, Division 2 or both formats. Since the eligibility rules apply only to those who play in Division 1, we need to further narrow down our sample to those players who play in Division 1 games. I'm using the most recent season to create this subset (2020). Any player that played a single Division 1 game or more was included in this sample. Focusing only on Division 1 players only serves to highlight the stark demographic differences within this division.
Total players, Division 1 only: 174
White players, Division 1 only: 27 ( 16% )
Non-white players, Division 1 only: ( 84% )
Only 16% of the players who padded up for at least one fixture in 2020 were white. The overwhelming majority of Division 1 players were non-white. Thus, any Division 2 eligibility criteria, based on pure demographics alone, would logically affect more non-white participants than white participants.
Tier 1 Players
Out of our 174 players, 49 of those achieved Tier 1 status based on the rules imposed during the 2020 season. This represents 28% of Division 1 players. Breakdown by demographics paints an interesting story.
White players: 4/27 15% of all white Division 1 players
Non-White players: 45/147 30% of all non-white Division 1 players
Based on demographics alone, we would expect white players to have a higher representation of Tier 1 players. This however discounts the relationship between demographics and skill level. Looking at the distribution of runs scored in 2020 as a proxy for batting skill, the demographic difference is stark.
There is a statistically significant difference in the distribution of runs scored between the white and non-white player population samples. White players average 60 runs per season, whereas non-white players score, on average, 90 runs per season. Similar results are borne out of the wicket totals, with the non-white cohort taking, on average, 2 more wickets than the white cohort. It seems that non-white players are simply, on average, better cricketers than the white players in the VDCA, at least, when only considering Division 1 performance.
It could therefore be argued that the criteria are working as expected - the impact of higher skilled players from Division 1 is being limited in Division 2 cricket. There is a key hole in this analysis however, and that is with respect to very skilled cricketers who elect not to play Division 1 cricket and only suit up for Division 2. Looking at the top 10 run-scorers in Division 2 for 2020, we see that 2 players (both white) don't play Division 1 at all and are thus exempt from eligibility rules. A further 5 players were unable to translate their good Division 2 performances to Division 1 (4/5 white, myself included), and are therefore not subject to any eligibility criteria in Division 2. There appears to be a need for a mechanism that considers these players in the Division 2 eligibility criteria alongside those players from Division 1 in order to have a set of criteria that properly limits the impact of very skilled players in the Division 2 competition. Further, participants in Division 2 matches should be reminded of the original goals of the competition and adjust their behaviour and playing style accordingly.
Allegations of racism in defining eligibility criteria for Division 2 cricket are categorically and statistically false, with any such variance explained by the intersection of demographic makeup and skill level of association members. Eligibility criteria should however be adjusted to incorporate previous season Division 2 stats as well as Division 1 stats. Participants in Division 2 should remember the spirit in which the Division 2 competition was founded. As a separate conversation, the VDCA could explore a separate T20 (or similar) competition that allows skilled cricketers to play competitively in the shorter format of the game during a midweek timeslot.