Azeem Rafiq says cricket needs a ‘cultural change’ after Gary Ballance admits using racial slur

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Azeem Rafiq has called for the focus to remain on “institutional racism” and leadership failures at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, rather than individuals, after ex-England batter Gary Ballance admitted to using racial slurs against him.

Ballance, who played the last of his 23 Tests in 2017, last night issued a long statement admitting that he “deeply regrets some of the language I used in my younger years” to his “best mate in cricket”.

This is just the latest chapter in a gruelling battle for justice for Rafiq, who first raised concerns about bullying at Yorkshire in 2018. Last summer, he escalated the allegations in a series of interviews, which led to Yorkshire commissioning a review and report into the matter.

In September, Yorkshire published a summary of that report, which was headed by law firm Squire Patton Boggs, the former employers of club chairman Roger Hutton. The summary showed that seven of Rafiq’s 43 complaints were upheld and confirmed that he was the “victim of racial harassment and bullying” at the club. He received an “unreserved apology” from Yorkshire.

Yorkshire announced last week that, despite the findings of the report, no disciplinary action would be taken against current players, staff or senior management at the club.

At this point, Rafiq and the ECB finally received a copy of the full report.

The ECB announced that they would be “conducting a full regulatory process” on the issue through the Cricket Discipline Commission and were operating with haste because they are “conscious about the length of time that Azeem has waited for resolution and the toll that must be taking on his wellbeing and that of his family”.

This could result in punishments for individuals, such as Ballance, and the club.

On Monday, contents of the report began to emerge. A report on ESPNcricinfo revealed that a current Yorkshire player had regularly called Rafiq “a P**i”, as well as making slurs about corner shops and Asian men with beards. Yorkshire’s report concluded this was “banter”, but condemned Rafiq for calling a Zimbabwean-born player “a Zimbo”.

The response was furious, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeting: “P**i” is not banter. Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If the ECB doesn’t take action, it’s not fit for purpose”. Other politicians, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, also weighed in.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee will hold a session on the matter on November 16, with Rafiq giving evidence, as well as Hutton, Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon, all of whom are facing calls to quit for their whitewashing of the allegations.

Crucially, Rafiq will be able to speak candidly, as he will be protected by Parliamentary privilege. Ballance is unlikely to be the only high-profile figure in the game dreading that date.

This morning, Rafiq tweeted: “I’m not intending to say very much until the select committee hearing later this month, however, I wanted to stress this is really not about the words of certain individuals.

“This is about institutional racism and abject failures to act by numerous leaders at Yorkshire and in the wider game. The sport I love and my club desperately need reform and cultural change.”

Yorkshire have lost a raft of sponsors over the last 24 hours, including Emerald, who held the naming rights to Headingley, Yorkshire Tea, Anchor and Tetley’s brewery.

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