‘Ashamed’ Azeem Rafiq apologises after anti-Semitic messages emerge

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Racism whistleblower Azeem Rafiq has issued an apology after it was revealed he had sent anti-Semitic messages to a fellow player more than a decade ago.

Former Yorkshire spinner Rafiq has won widespread praise for his resolve in highlighting the issue of racial discrimination in cricket and appeared before a parliamentary select committee this week to lift the lid on his own bitter experiences.

He pointed the finger at a number of high-profile individuals during his Westminster appearance, but on Thursday he was forced to confront his own past shortcomings when The Times uncovered an exchange with former Warwickshire and Leicestershire player Ateeq Javid.

In it, Rafiq makes offensive remarks about an unidentified person. Having reviewed the messages, Rafiq has confirmed they are authentic but that he is furious at his own actions.

“I was sent an image of this exchange from early 2011 today. I have gone back to check my account and it is me – I have absolutely no excuses,” he said on Twitter.

“I am ashamed of this exchange and have now deleted it so as not to cause further offence. I was 19 at the time and I hope and believe I am a different person today. I am incredibly angry at myself and I apologise to the Jewish community and everyone who is rightly offended by this.”

He added in a later tweet: “At no point will I ever try and defend the indefensible. For those I have hurt I am sincerely sorry. I will continue to front up and own any more mistakes I have made.”

The development is likely to be a source of deep embarrassment to Rafiq, now 30.

Board of Deputies of British Jews president Marie Van Der Zyl said in a statement: “Azeem Rafiq has suffered terribly at the hands of racists in cricket so he will well understand the hurt this exchange will cause to Jews who have supported him.

“His apology certainly seems heartfelt and we have no reason to believe he is not completely sincere.”

And Claudia Mendoza, co-chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said on Twitter: “There’s no doubt that this is massively awkward for Azeem Rafiq but he’s taken full ownership, apologised, and undoubtedly – through his own experiences – learnt a lot about racism since then.”

Javid was a Warwickshire player at the time of the exchange and the county said it was “deeply concerned” by the messages.

Warwickshire chairman Mark McCafferty said in a statement to the PA news agency: “We are aware of the messages exchanged by Azeem Rafiq and former Warwickshire player Ateeq Javid in 2011.

“Warwickshire CCC is deeply concerned by comments that have been used in this reported exchange. Whilst Ateeq left Warwickshire in 2017, he still has close connections with the club and within our local community.

Ateeq Javid
Ateeq Javid during his time as a Warwickshire player (David Davies/PA).

“We have already spoken briefly with Ateeq and will have a more detailed conversation to understand the nature of the exchange and how he or anyone else at Warwickshire became involved.

“Warwickshire CCC is determined to reflect the communities that we serve at every level, with Edgbaston being a safe and welcoming place for all. We will not let anything that’s taken place at the club, past or present, detract from this.”

Rafiq this month settled an employment tribunal with Yorkshire but has vowed to stand alongside other victims of abuse and use his platform to become the “voice of the voiceless”.

Speaking to BBC Sport after his appearance in front of the parliamentary DCMS committee, he told victims of discrimination: “Whether anyone else stands by you or not, I’ll stand by you. Hopefully people will be believed and heard a lot more and people can take confidence from that.”

He also predicted that his case would lead to the “floodgates” opening and that the number of cricketers coming forward to tell their stories could run into the thousands.

Cricket charity Chance to Shine said the emergence of the anti-Semitic messages “only emphasises the need for change within the game”.

The charity’s chief executive Laura Cordingley said in a statement: “Racism is an absolute blight on our sport and we were shocked and saddened to hear Azeem Rafiq’s account of his time at Yorkshire CCC. His testimony and witness statement were heartbreaking and everyone at Chance to Shine is wishing him and his family the very best at this tremendously difficult time.

“We are determined that Azeem’s bravery will change the sport for the better.

“Whilst we are aware of the latest developments and Azeem’s related statement, this only emphasises the need for change within the game. Cricket is, and should be, a game for all and what has happened in Yorkshire and in other counties has only strengthened our resolve at Chance to Shine.”

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