What is the Yorkshire Cricket Racism Row All About?
By: Sashwata Saha
Yorkshire County Cricket Club, one of England’s oldest county teams, is in the midst of a racism scandal that has seen its top officials resigning, being replaced, their sponsors jumping ship, and now even the Parliament and Prime Minister’s office have gotten involved.
Former player Azeem Rafiq – an English all-rounder of Pakistani origin who had captained England’s U-15 and U-19 teams – alleged in 2018 the racist behaviour teammates and coaches had subjected to him during his two stints at the club. However, a Yorkshire internal investigation has rejected Rafiq’s claims as “banter”, prompting outrage.
In an interview to Wisden Cricket Monthly, Rafiq claimed that he had a “captain who was openly racist.”
“Why didn’t I stop it? It was the environment. The one time I did raise it, I was made out to be the person who was in the wrong. Through the years, you feel like you have to do things to fit in, and I did. The minute I didn’t, I felt isolated.”
“There’s one comment that stands out for me. It was around the time of my debut. There was me, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. We’re walking onto the field, and one player said: ‘There’s too many of you lot. We need to have a word about that.’”
In another interview with ESPN, Rafiq said the harassment often prompted suicidal thoughts. Rafiq had first taken his complaints formally to the Yorkshire board in August 2018.
As per a follow-up ESPN story, the YCCC only acknowledged an independent inquiry in September 2020, just after Rafiq first went to press. In August this year, the investigating team found that the comments made against Rafiq were “capable of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” and accepted Rafiq’s “evidence that he was offended, degraded or humiliated and that this amounted to harassment under the Equality Act and the Club’s Equal Opportunities policy.”
Although the club, last Thursday, went on to declare that their internal panel “does not accept that Azeem was offended by comments, either at the time they were made or subsequently.” They said that the context of the comments was simply “banter between friends”, and Rafiq should “take such comments in the spirit in which they were intended.”
Michael Vaughan’s name has also surfaced in the scandal, with Rafiq claiming the former England captain told four Asian players ahead of a T20 match that “there’s too many of you lot, we need to do something about it.” However, Vaughan continues to deny the allegations.
Now the matter has reached London where, according to various media reports, Rafiq told the Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that he was regularly referred to as a “P***” and detailing several specific instances where he had suffered indignity and “humiliation” at the hands of those at the club.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, as reported by The Times, that such language “should not be used in any context.” Meanwhile, State Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, also said, “P*** is not banter. Heads should roll at Yorkshire. If the ECB doesn’t take action, it’s not fit for purpose.”
As punishment, the England and Wales Cricket Board has suspended Yorkshire from hosting any international matches. Also, several high profile members of the county’s board have resigned, including chairman Roger Hutton and executives Hanif Malik OBE and Stephen Willis. Lord Kamlesh Patel has replaced Hutton.
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