'Rainbow Laces in cricket in India would make a huge difference'
Growing up in Ahmedabad, cricket was in Manish Modi's blood - but it wasn't until he found London's LGBT-inclusive club Graces that he could truly be himself in the game
Last Updated: 12/08/19 2:17pm
As the ECB's annual Rainbow Laces activation concludes, Manish Modi of Graces CC hopes the campaign will reach international cricket.
Since Friday, the ECB has again been backing Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign, which is helping to 'make sport everyone's game' by raising awareness around LGBT+ inclusion.
There's been visible support for the initiative at Vitality Blast and Kia Super League matches, while players, officials, administrators, broadcasters and fans at all levels of cricket are being invited to get involved by wearing the laces and talking about the game's welcoming culture.
So what's cricket like for LGBT+ people? Sky Sports is giving athletes, coaches and others in sport who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender the opportunity to share their experiences, discuss the challenges they face, and give their views on the progress that's being made on inclusion.
- 'I felt like the only one': Sam's story
- 'Rainbow Laces have power': Lachlan's story
- 'A sense of belonging': Steve's story
Our series of cricket stories concludes with Manish, whose journey in the sport has taken him from Gujarat to the green fields of suburban London...
Manish Modi (Graces Cricket Club)
Like most Indian boys, I started playing cricket at an early age. My dad had played to a good level back in his university days, and my whole family is crazy about the sport - but that's a familiar story in our country. Millions would say the same.
The Graces community has encouraged me to be myself, as a gay man of Indian origin.
Home for me was Ahmedabad, which is the largest city in the state of Gujarat, on the west coast. My elders encouraged me and I took up the game very seriously. Parthiv Patel, who was Test cricket's youngest-ever wicketkeeper when he played at the age of 17 against England back in 2002, was a fellow academy player of mine in those days.
Ahmedabad's major cricket ground is the Motera. I loved going to watch Test matches there, but the most memorable game I ever saw was India vs West Indies in a one-day match in 2002.
Chris Gayle was smashing sixes around - he's my idol. I was really jealous last year because a close friend of mine bumped into him in a bar in Sydney, and they had a drink together. He's a true legend, and I really want to meet him too.
They are redeveloping the Motera at the moment and when it's finished, it will be the world's biggest cricket stadium with a capacity of 110,000, which is even bigger than the MCG in Melbourne.
As for my own ability, I was good enough to represent Gujarat in the Ranji Trophy, which is an important first-class cricket championship played across the whole country. I was selected from the Bank of India side - players would get picked from those teams to play for their state, whereas here in England, counties like Middlesex select from their academies and so on.
While I was playing cricket as a youngster, I did begin to realise that I was different to the other boys - but I just focused solely on my cricket. Every time I walked in to bat, or while I was in the field, I concentrated only on the game. My sexuality was always there, in the back of my mind, but I couldn't even speak to anyone about it, because of the culture.
Finding a community
There was a lot of family pressure to find a wife. I had an arranged marriage, and my wife and I had a daughter. But I knew that I had to accept I was gay. The opportunity came to move to the UK on a migrant programme for highly-skilled workers. I had the right qualifications, so in 2004 I made a big decision to move here on my own for a better career - and a better life, both for myself and for my wife back in India.
Once I had found a job and things had settled down a bit, I started playing for the local club in Hemel Hempstead where I was living. But I still couldn't be myself. I didn't feel I could tell my team-mates about my sexuality. People would ask me 'where is your wife? Do you have a girlfriend?' and questions like that, and I would have no answer for them.
Then because of work, I moved to London. I had a boyfriend by that time, and although he wasn't into sports himself, he had heard about this gay cricket club called Graces. I contacted them by email and they asked me to come to Lord's, where they were doing pre-season training. That was in 2008, and I've been playing for them ever since. It's the best club I've ever played for.
The Graces community has encouraged me to be myself, as a gay man of Indian origin. It's been an entirely positive experience. The tours abroad to Spain, Portugal, Malta and Corfu have been particular highlights. I've also grown as a cricketer, through being mentored by senior players. Now I'm the club captain.
Everyone at the club knows who I am, and they know my life as well. Over the years, just by being around the guys, they have given me confidence in my own skin. That helped me to come out to my father, six years ago. He's accepted me - he's my hero. My wife and I are now divorced too. I just wanted her to be happy. We all have to live our lives.
'India beginning to change'
Rainbow Laces is a great thing. For county cricket to send out that message to people in the LGBT community... I couldn't be more grateful to them for doing this, and I hope cricket will do more. When the ECB first backed the campaign two years ago, the news even went to India - it was reported in the Hindustan Times.
It would have meant a lot to me growing up in India, unable to acknowledge my own sexuality, to have seen something like that. Young gay men and women in many parts of Asia are still in the closet because in lots of countries, homosexuality is still illegal. More visible support for the LGBT community in sport would make a huge difference, particularly as far as cricket is concerned on the subcontinent.
Things are beginning to change in India now, since the anti-gay law Section 377 was repealed last year - that was a significant moment for millions of people. There are Pride parades now in different cities, including in Ahmedabad. But the society and culture means a lot of gay people still live in fear, and their family situations are very difficult. It will take a few more years yet for that to improve significantly.
I'm sure there are gay professional cricketers in India as well, who probably have a fear of losing commercial contracts - but that will change too, eventually.
I'm hoping that by sharing my story, it might help those players - they can know that there are people like me here to offer support through the medium of cricket. Speaking out allows me to raise the profile of Graces but it also sends a message to people in different countries who are struggling.
'Our dream is a gay Ashes'
It would be great to see cricket's support for Rainbow Laces carry on, and lead to major international teams like England, Australia - and perhaps one day even India - backing the campaign.
How great would it be to see both teams at the Ashes wearing rainbow laces? We have a dream at Graces of having a 'Gay Ashes', but there is not a club like ours in Australia yet. One of my former captains at Graces lives in Perth now. He assures us that there are gay cricketers out there too, so maybe if the international cricketers wore the laces as allies, it could help us to arrange our own 'Gay Ashes' tour one day.
Allies are so important. I was watching the clip of Joe Root and Shannon Gabriel again the other day. I think that was an amazing moment - Root was sending out a message to other international players as well, because it would probably be just as difficult to be gay in the West Indies as it is in India. In the Bristol incident, Ben Stokes was sticking up for gay people there too. To say and to show that there's nothing wrong with being gay is powerful.
And for India? Well, if MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli were to wear rainbow laces in a match, that would mean everything to me. There are still so many sad stories in India for LGBT people, so to have one of our national-team heroes speak up and lace up as an ally would be a massive help.
Watch Surrey Stars vs Southern Vipers in the Kia Super League on Monday, live on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Mix (Sky channel 121) from 6pm.