Azeem Rafiq obliged to be ‘voice for the voiceless’ in harrowing testimony to DCMS on Yorkshire racism crisis

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·5-min read
Azeem Rafiq obliged to be ‘voice for the voiceless’ in harrowing testimony to DCMS on Yorkshire racism crisis
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Azeem Rafiq said he felt a responsibility to “become a voice for the voiceless” as he broke down in tears while delivering a heartbreaking, harrowing testimony of the widespread racism that was prevalent in his two spells at Yorkshire.

At the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee at Portcullis House in Westminster, Rafiq spoke with Parliamentary privilege before MPs.

The 30-year-old, who was born in Pakistan but raised in Barnsley and captained an England Under-19 side containing Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jos Buttler, spoke with poise and composure about his desperately difficult experience at Yorkshire, both in terms of racial abuse and in the loss of his son.

The Muslim spoke about how, aged 15, he was pinned down at his home club by a cricketer who represented both Yorkshire and Hampshire and had red wine poured down his throat.

He spoke about the “inhuman” treatment he received from club officials, such as the day he returned to the club after losing his son, and Martyn Moxon, the Yorkshire director of cricket, was alleged to have “ripped shreds off me”. He added that there seemed "an acceptance” of racism at the county.

He spoke about how players of Asian origin were told that “you lot sit over there”, called “elephant washers”, “constantly” referred to as a “p***s”, how they were questioned over fasting. He spoke about the toil the ordeal had taken on his family.

Some of the biggest names in English cricket were mentioned. We knew already that Gary Ballance – the allegations against whom were extensive – and Michael Vaughan were named in the report Yorkshire commissioned into Rafiq’s allegations.

Moxon and coach Andrew Gale’s alleged conduct was laid bare. When Gale took over from Jason Gillespie as coach, and Ballance took the captaincy, Rafiq felt “the temperature had turned up” in the changing room.

It emerged that Matthew Hoggard, part of Vaughan’s vaunted 2005 Ashes-winning team, had apologised to Rafiq for comments he had made while they were team-mates, while Alex Hales was alleged to have named his black dog Kevin because that was what Ballance called all people of colour.

Rafiq said he – and six or seven others – complained to the club about Tim Bresnan’s “bullying" in 2017. And he accused David “Bumble” Lloyd, the former England player, coach and Sky pundit, of attempting to discredit him.

Root was discussed, too. The England captain asserted last week that he has never heard racist language while at Yorkshire.

“I want to be clear, Rooty is a good man,” he said. “He’s never engaged in racist language, I found [his comments] hurtful. He was Gary’s flatmate.

“He was involved in social nights out during which I was called a P**i. He might not remember [the incidents of racism] but it shows how normal it was that even a good man like him doesn’t see it for what it is.”

He was also critical of the ECB for “box-ticking” and “tokenism" and the players’ union, the Professional Cricketers’ Association, who he described as “incredibly inept”. He claimed that, as he struggled with his mental health, the PCA had reported him missing.

“I felt that was not because they were concerned about me, but as a box-ticking exercise in case I killed myself and they could say, ‘Well, we did what we could’,” he said.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

But Rafiq was not there to take down individuals. He was speaking so that those following his footsteps would not suffer as he has.

"I want to become a voice for the voiceless,” he said. "I want to help people that that are suffering and young players coming into the game to get them ready for the challenges. And for counties to change environments and cultures so these people can achieve their dreams.

“Now I’ve been brave or stupid enough to stand up to an institution, I want to help others.”

The crisis has spread far beyond Yorkshire in recent days. Essex chairman John Faragher resigned last week having been accused of racist language in a board meeting, while on Monday Maurice Chambers gave a harrowing account of the racism he endured while playing for Essex and Northamptonshire.

More are expected to come forward in the near future. Rafiq himself said that players from Leicestershire, Middlesex and Nottinghamshire had spoken to him about their experiences of racism. This is just the start.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

“When I spoke I should have been listened to,” he noted. “The game as a whole has a problem, with listening to the victim. There is no ‘yeah, but’ with racism; there is no ‘two sides’ to racism.”

And Rafiq’s words were just the start of a painful day of revelations. Questioned after Rafiq were Roger Hutton, the Yorkshire Chairman from early 2020 until his resignation this month, who was joined at the table by his successor, Lord Kamlesh Patel. It was noted with disappointment that Mark Arthur – the CEO who resigned last week – and Moxon (who is off with a stress-related illness) declined to attend.

Most of all, Rafiq’s testimony was desperately sad.

“I was a young kid from Pakistan living in Barnsley with a dream to represent England,” he said. “I joined a dressing room full of my heroes, Michael Vaughan and Matthew Hoggard. It was just the most surreal moment for me.”

By contrast, half a lifetime later, he says he does not want his son “to go anywhere near cricket” because of his experience.

Rafiq said he believes racism cost him his career. “Hopefully, in five years’ time we will see a big change and I can look back and see something far bigger than any runs or wickets,” he said. “But it hurts.”

Thanks to Rafiq’s bravery, that big change is coming.

Read More

Azeem Rafiq reveals Matthew Hoggard apology after coming forward with Yorkshire racism complaint

Azeem Rafiq: Ex-England star Alex Hales accused of naming dog after racial slur amid Yorkshire racism crisis

Azeem Rafiq: Yorkshire players ‘constantly’ made racist comments and county chiefs did nothing about it

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