Stephen Fry criticises MCC at Hay Festival: ‘Stinking of privilege and classism’

Stephen Fry, the former celebrity president of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), has said the 237-year-old club is full of “beetroot-coloured” men and “stinks” of privilege.

Speaking during a panel discussion at the Welsh literary event Hay Festival, Fry addressed issues of diversity in cricket, having led the MCC from 2022 to 2023. At the festival, an All Stars cricket match took on the Hay-on-Wye Cricket Ground, umpired by Fry, with names from the literary and broadcasting industries going head-to-head in an Actors vs Writers match.

Fry, the actor, writer, and former longtime host of QI, said that “privilege and classism” demonstrated by the MCC “stinks” and that the club has a public face that is “deeply disturbing”.

During the talk about systemic biases and issues of inequality in the sport, Fry, 66, addressed the demographic that makeup MCC members, saying of the club: “It has a public face that is deeply disturbing, sort of beetroot-coloured gentleman in yellow-and-orange blazers sitting in this space in front of the Long Room and looking as if they’d come out of an Edwardian cartoon.”

The actor was joined on the panel by Azeem Rafiq, the former Yorkshire cricketer who sent shockwaves through English cricket in 2020 when he raised concerns about the racial abuse he experienced in certain clubs. Rafiq’s campaign led to six former Yorkshire players being sanctioned with fines and bans by the Cricket Discipline Commission after they were found to have used racist language.

Fry in the MCC president’s suit (Getty Images)
Fry in the MCC president’s suit (Getty Images)

Rafiq’s campaign prompted the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket to launch an investigation into reviewing equality in English cricket. It found last year that the sport was racist, sexist and elitist.

In recent years the MCC, which has a 25-year waiting list to become a member and a high annual subscription, has embraced changes in cricket to make the sport more gender-inclusive, by ditching the term “batsman” for the gender-neutral “batter”.

Speaking at Hay, Fry said that it was awkward to be president of the MCC as a white man at a time when the sport was forced to look in the mirror amid allegations of racism.

He said: “I felt slightly embarrassed to be president of the MCC at exactly this time, because I thought I’m the perfect example of the problem has been for hundreds of years, largely, fleshy, white Englishmen, public school, Oxbridge, that are running things.”

Fry told the audience at Hay Festival that the MCC ‘stinks of privilege’ (Getty Images)
Fry told the audience at Hay Festival that the MCC ‘stinks of privilege’ (Getty Images)

Radiq added that simply increasing diversity at a high level was not enough, and mentioned Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, as an example of diversity alone not solving problems.

He said that more needed to be done to encourage racial and social inclusion in the sport, including de-centring alcohol in the social activities that revolve around the sport.

Former Yorkshire cricket player Azeem Rafiq (PA Wire)
Former Yorkshire cricket player Azeem Rafiq (PA Wire)

He said: “Club cricket, a lot of cricket, revolves around alcohol. The minute you turn up to a club, to the minute you leave, is around alcohol.

“It excludes Muslims and everyone that doesn’t drink.

“The game needs to evolve its economy so it doesn’t just, at the recreational level, just revolve around alcohol.”