South Asian community 'critical' for cricket growth

Cricket Australia's Multicultural Action Plan lays out 10 key actions for the sport to increase representation in the sport across all levels

Emotional Khawaja feels 'responsiblity' to speak up

Australia's South Asian communities are critical for the growth of cricket as the governing body unveils its plan to attract participants from multicultural backgrounds with more opportunities.

Cricket Australia released its Multicultural Action Plan on Friday with 10 key actions including funding and support to increase representation in roles such as coaching and umpiring across all levels.

Funding will be available to all multicultural groups and will help drive participation, attendance and engagement from all backgrounds.

Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley said the plan will ensure the game is welcoming, inclusive and fully representative of the population, conceding that is not the case at the moment.

"We couldn't be stronger that we want to make every single cricket environment, whether that's clubs, playing, coaching, administering, just the most inclusive places we possibly can," Hockley told reporters on Friday.

Australian Test opening batter Usman Khawaja said the issue was one that was very close to his heart.

"I'm very Australian, but I grew up very subcontinental," Khawaja said. 

"The things I had to deal with growing up were very different than things that other teammates in my era had to grow up with.

"I've always found it very hard to relate to my teammates in some respects, but also with my coaches."

He spoke of the stereotypes faced during his career, being accused of laziness because of his culture.

"All my coaches were white Australian, all the selectors were white Australian and they didn't really understand me or my culture."

The cricketer said those looking to progress to the elite levels faced barriers.

"For a long time Cricket Australia has been a very white-dominated sport," Khawaja said.

"Hopefully this will be a legacy that lasts long into the future where we can see greater representation, both male and female, in Australian cricket."

The governing body is looking to double the number of South Asian people attending matches to 200,000 annually after a stellar turnout during the 2022 Men's T20 Cricket World Cup where more than 150,000 fans attended the two games featuring India and Pakistan.

It has set a goal to increase South Asian registered players by 30,000 in four years.

CA's Head of Community Cricket and Capability James Allsopp said research had confirmed "amazing progress in engaging diverse communities into our sport through programs and initiatives we have focused on in recent years".

"Almost 20 per cent of participants are of South Asian cultural background and in last year's youth national championship carnivals 18 per cent of competing players were of South Asian cultural background," Allsopp said.

"However, the research has also highlighted areas where we have work to do to increase engagement and representation of culturally diverse communities.

"Increasing representation in leadership roles within the game including the numbers of culturally diverse coaches from grassroots to the elite, growing the number of culturally diverse volunteers, supporting the transition of talented players from culturally diverse backgrounds from the pathway to elite, and growing attendances of culturally diverse communities to the W/BBL are key areas of the action plan that the 10 initiatives are looking to address."

Junior South Asian players account for almost one in five of all players and the cricketing body is looking to retain them through to higher levels.

It's aiming to almost double the number of people from South Asian backgrounds in first class, state and territory and W/BBL teams to eight per cent by 2027.

But for Khawaja, the solution lies beyond South Asian players with players from Africa, other parts of Asia and all around the world integral to the growth, starting with Southeast Asian cricketers.

"It's more about focusing on something really small and then working our way up."

Federal multicultural affairs minister Andrew Giles recognised the extraordinary work Cricket Australia is doing to make the game inclusive of everyone. 

"It's so important and so exciting that every kid around Australia, who's dreaming about cricket, can see themselves in our national colours," he said.

The plan is one of four set up by Cricket Australia to address issues including reconciliation, women and girls and sustainability.