Azeem Rafiq’s revelations: All you need to know on cricket’s racism crisis

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Azeem Rafiq’s testimony to MPs and witness statement about the racism he experienced at Yorkshire have sent shockwaves through the sport (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
Azeem Rafiq’s testimony to MPs and witness statement about the racism he experienced at Yorkshire have sent shockwaves through the sport (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

Azeem Rafiq’s testimony to MPs and witness statement about the discrimination he experienced at Yorkshire have sent shockwaves through the sport.

Here the PA news agency summarises the state of play in cricket’s racism crisis.

What is the background to this?

Yorkshire took no disciplinary action following its investigation into Rafiq’s allegations (Danny Lawson/PA Media) (PA Wire)
Yorkshire took no disciplinary action following its investigation into Rafiq’s allegations (Danny Lawson/PA Media) (PA Wire)

Former Yorkshire player Rafiq gave interviews in the summer of 2020 alleging he was the victim of racial harassment and bullying during two spells at the club, the first between 2008 and 2014 and second between 2016 and 2018.

Yorkshire launched an investigation almost immediately but were criticised for the length of time the report took to complete and their failure to publish it. The summary findings upheld seven out of Rafiq’s 43 claims, including some “racial harassment and bullying” but the club concluded no disciplinary action would be taken against any individuals. On November 1, ESPNcricinfo reported that the investigation panel had dismissed the repeated use of the word ‘P***’ by a team-mate towards Rafiq as “friendly banter”. Yorkshire’s handling of the investigation received cross-party political criticism which led to Tuesday’s committee hearing.

What happened on Tuesday?

Rafiq gave powerful evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, fighting back tears as he outlined the racism and bullying he faced. He said racism had become “normalised” at Yorkshire and added: “You had people that were openly racist, and then you have the bystanders.”

In a witness statement to the Leeds Employment Tribunal which was published online by the committee after the hearing, further allegations against former colleagues at Yorkshire including Andrew Gale, Tim Bresnan, Gary Ballance Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard and Alex Hales were set out.

What have they said?

Michael Vaughan has denied making racially insensitive comments to some former Yorkshire team-mates (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Michael Vaughan has denied making racially insensitive comments to some former Yorkshire team-mates (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Bresnan took to Twitter following the hearing to “apologise unreservedly” for making Rafiq feel bullied, but stressed accusations of frequent racist comments were “absolutely not true”. Hoggard has so far declined to comment but was given some credit by Rafiq for being the first to apologise in a phone call last summer.

Vaughan has twice denied making a racially insensitive comment towards Rafiq and a group of other players of Asian ethnicity in 2009. Ballance admitted in a statement released by Yorkshire earlier this month that he had used a “racial slur” towards Rafiq and offered their previous close friendship as context. Hales said on Wednesday he “categorically and absolutely” denies naming his dog ‘Kevin’ had a “racial connotation”. Sky commentator David Lloyd has admitted, and said sorry, for sending disparaging messages in private. Former Yorkshire captain David Byas, who had left the club before Rafiq’s arrival but was also accused of historical racism in his witness statement, said: “I deny emphatically phrases attributed to me”.

Will more ‘heads roll’?

That is the memorable phrase Health Secretary Sajid Javid used earlier in this scandal and while Roger Hutton and Mark Arthur respectively stepped down as chair and chief executive at Headingley there could be more to come. Rafiq made it clear in a round of follow-up broadcast interviews that he felt Yorkshire could not begin anew until both head coach Gale and director of cricket Martyn Moxon were gone. He said Ballance had a second chance if he repented in full. Meanwhile, senior administrators all the way up to England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison have come under fire for the game’s wider reaction to Rafiq’s 18-month public protest.

What is the sport doing about it?

Yorkshire have opened an independent whistleblowing hotline, with their new chair Lord Patel vowing to take “further action” but saying the county are at “the start of a journey” to make the club a “template” for inclusion. The ECB has set up a joint reporting service with the Professional Cricketers’ Association and is continuing its investigation into Yorkshire’s handling of Rafiq’s allegations. It has already suspended the county from hosting major international matches at Headingley.

The ECB has also set up the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) which has opened its call for evidence. Its chair, Cindy Butts, says she wants to hold a mirror up to the sport and hear from anyone connected to the sport about their experiences of discrimination in any form. The ECB has found itself widely criticised for its slow response, with Conservative peer Baroness Warsi concluding they allowed Yorkshire to “mark their own homework”.

Has Rafiq satisfied now?

We're not interested in PR initiatives. We want tangible proper human action. We're here watching and if it doesn't happen I will be the first to call it out

Azeem Rafiq

The employment tribunal with Yorkshire is settled and he admitted to Sky Sports News that his DCMS committee appearance gave him a hint of “closure”. But he recommitted to being the sport’s “voice for the voiceless” and has put Yorkshire and the ECB on notice that he will be watching their actions and holding them to account. He has also pledged to support and stand alongside those who want to speak out.

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