Azeem Rafiq: There ‘seemed to be an acceptance’ of racist abuse at Yorkshire

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Azeem Rafiq fought back tears as he told MPs the word ‘P**i’ was “used constantly” across his two spells at Yorkshire and no one in leadership challenged it.

Rafiq first alleged racial harassment and bullying against the county and accused them of institutional racism in September last year, with the club launching an investigation soon afterwards.

However, their handling of it has been heavily criticised. They finally published summary findings of the investigation in September this year and, while the investigation found there was “no question” Rafiq had been subjected to racial harassment and bullying, no individuals faced disciplinary action.

Rafiq told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday: “Pretty early on at the club, I joined a dressing room full of my heroes, Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, part of the 2005 Ashes team. And it was just the most surreal moment for me.

“Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian background…there were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant washers’. The word P*** was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”

Rafiq added: “All I wanted to do is play cricket and play for England and live my dream and live my family’s dream. In my first spell, I don’t really think I quite realised what it was. I think I was in denial.”

He said he started medication due to his deteriorating mental health and left Yorkshire for the first time in 2014.

When he returned he initially felt settled under captain Alex Lees and coach Jason Gillespie.

“Jason left in 2016 and it just felt the temperature in the room had been turned up,” Rafiq said. “You had Andrew Gale coming in as coach and Gary Ballance as captain.

“For the first time I started to see for what it was – I felt isolated, humiliated at times. Constant use of the word ‘P***’.”

Rafiq said on a 2017 pre-season tour Ballance had racially abused him.

“We were in a place and Gary Ballance walks over and goes, ‘Why are you talking to him? You know he’s a P***’. This happened in front of team-mates. It happened in front of coaching staff.”

Former England batter Ballance admitted using a “racial slur” towards Rafiq in a lengthy statement issued earlier this month, apologising but framing it as part of a long and deep friendship.

Azeem Rafiq
Azeem Rafiq giving evidence to MPs (House of Commons Handout/PA).

Rafiq told the committee that was not an accurate depiction of their relationship, saying it went downhill from 2013 onwards and had become toxic by 2017.

Asked by chair Julian Knight about the term ‘Kevin’, he said it was an offensive, racist term that reached the very top of the game.

“Kevin was a something Gary used to describe anyone of colour in a very derogatory manner. It was an open secret in the England dressing room,” he said.

“Anyone who came across Gary would know that was a phrase he would use to describe people of colour.”

Rafiq also alleged former England batter Alex Hales was involved.

He said: “Gary and Alex Hales got really close to each other when they played for England together. I wasn’t present in that dressing room, but what I understand (is) that Alex went on to name his dog ‘Kevin’ because it was black. It’s disgusting how much of a joke it was.”

Rafiq, who is a Muslim, also described his harrowing first experience of alcohol at the age of 15.

“I got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat, literally down my throat,” he said.

“The player played for Yorkshire and Hampshire. I (then) didn’t touch alcohol until about 2012 and around that time I felt I had to do that to fit in.

“I wasn’t perfect, there are things I did which I felt I had to do to achieve my dreams. I deeply regret that but it has nothing to do with racism.

“When I spoke I should have been listened to. 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.”

Asked again later in the hearing about the incident when wine was poured down his throat, Rafiq said he had been in a car at the time and there had been one other witness to what happened.

“No one did anything. I’m angry at myself for looking the other way,” he said.

Committee member John Nicolson asked if anyone had stood up for him at the time the bullying and racist abuse was taking place, and Rafiq replied: “Nobody. That’s the institution.

“You had people who were openly racist and you had the bystanders. A lot of people watched it happen and no one felt like it was important or because it was such a norm that no one felt strong enough to actually stand up.”

Maurice Chambers
Former Essex player Maurice Chambers has spoken about his experiences of racism in cricket (Sean Dempsey/PA).

Rafiq said the problem at Yorkshire was replicated “up and down the country”.

Asked about the fact others, such as former Essex and Northamptonshire player Maurice Chambers, had now spoken out, Rafiq said: “I would like to see it as progress that people are feeling like they can come forward and they are going to be heard and not just be discredited, smeared about, briefed about.”

He described England and Wales Cricket Board initiatives on diversity as “box-ticking” exercises and “tokenism”.

He said former England coach David Lloyd had talked about Rafiq’s drinking.

He added: “He’d been an England coach and commentator and I found it disturbing, because Sky is supposedly doing this amazing work on bringing racism to the front and within a week of me speaking out, that’s what I got sent to me and I thought, ‘God, there are some closet racists and I need to do something about it’.”

Rafiq added: “I think with four or five months left on my contract, I was encouraged to sign a confidentiality form and take a parcel of money which I refused.

“At that time it would have been a lot of money for me. I think my wife was struggling. I knew I was struggling. There was no way mentally I could have even considered putting myself through this trauma. I actually left the country. I went to Pakistan. I never wanted to come back.”

Asked how he had summoned the strength to come forward, Rafiq added: “I had an interview about my new business. I got asked a question. And I got emotional. I said everything.

“Even at that point, I genuinely thought that there might be some humanity left in some of these individuals. But no. They thought, ‘He hasn’t talked about Yorkshire’. It was all about ‘discredit, discredit, discredit’. I don’t know how I’ve done it. This last 14 months has been incredibly difficult.”

After the committee took a break as Rafiq became visibly emotional, Rafiq said he found it “hurtful” that England captain Joe Root said he had never witnessed anything of a racist nature at Yorkshire.

“Rooty is a good man. He never engaged in racist language,” Rafiq said.

“I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary (Ballance)’s housemate and had been involved in a lot of the socialising where I was called a ‘P***’.

Joe Root
Azeem Rafiq said Joe Root ‘never engaged in racist language’ but he had been hurt by the England captain’s comments he had never witnessed anything of racist nature at Yorkshire (Nigel French/PA).

“It shows how normal it was that even a good man like him doesn’t see it for what it was. It’s not going to affect Joe, but it’s something I remember every day.”

Former England captain Michael Vaughan is named in the independent report into Rafiq’s claims, but has strenuously denied allegations he told four Asian team-mates: “(There’s) too many of your lot, we need to do something about it.”

Rafiq, Adil Rashid and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan all say they remember those words, while the fourth player Ajmal Shahzad has said he cannot recall any racism at the club.

Asked about Vaughan, Rafiq said: “Michael might not remember it…three of us, Adil, myself and Rana remember it.

“He clearly had a snippet of my statement. He used his platform at the Daily Telegraph to tell everyone he hadn’t said these things. To go on and put a snippet of my statement out and talk about other things, I thought was completely wrong.

“He probably doesn’t remember it because it doesn’t mean anything to him.”

Rafiq said Yorkshire’s investigation into his allegations had been “far from independent”.

He said that, while the investigation was live, members of the panel were entertained by the county at a Headingley Test match.

“It just shows the arrogance of these people,” he said.

Rafiq criticised the handling of his situation by the ECB and the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA).

He said: “When George Dobell published (his initial) article (in September 2020) I had a phone call from (ECB chief executive) Tom Harrison. I felt like he was listening, but then they took the stance that they would trust Yorkshire to do the right thing and then as regulators would come in to hold Yorkshire to account.

“It was difficult for me to take through the winter. I kept begging the ECB, the PCA, I kept telling them, ‘They (Yorkshire) are not doing the right thing, this is going to end up in a car crash for everyone’.

“No one wanted to do that until that Monday (November 2) when the article broke in Cricinfo, at that point the ECB came in.

“On a human point I felt like if someone else had told me they were suicidal and they were ringing you saying, ‘Please help’ I’d forget my constitution and help a human. Over the winter there were some real dark moments.

“I didn’t feel like they did that because they were concerned for me or worried for me, I feel that was done to tick a box in case I killed myself.”

Rafiq described the PCA as “incredibly inept” and added: “An organisation that should have supported me left me on my own.”

Rafiq said Matthew Hoggard had apologised to him after watching him being interviewed about his experience at Yorkshire.

He said: “I took a phone call from Matthew and he just said, ‘Look, I didn’t realise, I’m really sorry. If some of the comments I made made you feel the way you’ve described it, I just want to apologise’.

Matthew Hoggard
Azeem Rafiq said he had received an apology from Matthew Hoggard (David Davies/PA).

“You know what, when someone does that, I was like, ‘Thank you, I really appreciate it’.”

Asked to name other instances of racism he had personally heard about outside of Yorkshire, Rafiq said: “I’ve had messages from people who have played at Leicestershire, a guy who played at Middlesex, messages from people who played at Nottinghamshire. Maurice Chambers spoke out yesterday about Essex.

“I’ve had messages from quite a few.

“Some people are still pretty scared to talk about it. Some still say, ‘Is it racism? I don’t know’. One reoccurrence is the word ‘P***’ was used a lot.”

Rafiq said he hoped to become “a voice for the voiceless”.

“My dream, I wasn’t able to achieve it,” he said. “With the stats and stuff around 2017 I had the ability to go right to the top and these experiences weighed down on me.

“Some of the things that have hurt me the most has been the PCA, who I thought would be in my corner, and certain members of the South Asian community.

“Now that I have been brave, or stupid, whatever you want to call it, to stand up to an institution and hold it to account, I want to try and help the young lads who are wanting to achieve their dreams prepare better.

“But hopefully we can actually get the institutions to change so they don’t have to.”

Roger Hutton
Roger Hutton is the former chairman of Yorkshire (Hollie Adams/PA).

Referring to the independent commission for equity in cricket, chaired by Cindy Butts, Rafiq added: “Action is needed and needed now.

“To be honest, we are sick and tired of these equity commissions and inquiries. Sick and tired.

“All we are asking for is equality, to be treated fairly regardless of the colour of our skin or the religion we follow. Just respect as a human race.

“It’s 2021, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

Rafiq said he had been “staggered” when Yorkshire announced no one would face disciplinary action over his experience at the club.

“I thought, ‘At what point are these people going to read the room and realise what they’re doing?’. While the investigation was live and they were aware of the allegations against Gary (Ballance), he was made captain and given a three-year contract.

“(Former chairman) Roger (Hutton) had gone to members’ forums and said to people this didn’t involve anyone at the club. I think even as close as two weeks ago they genuinely felt they could hide this.

“I think they have been left with no option. I don’t think (former chief executive) Mark (Arthur) thinks he’s done anything wrong. I don’t think (director of cricket) Martyn (Moxon) feels he’s in the wrong. Michael (Vaughan) seems to have taken the same stance as the club – deny, deny, deny.”

Rafiq agreed with Nicolson that he had “lost his career to racism”.

He spoke about the support he had received from his wife and the strain it had placed on family life.

He added: “We’ve got two young kids, one’s just over two and one’s about to turn one. And they’ve not had a dad really. All I’ve been worried about is Yorkshire going out to discredit me.”

Former Yorkshire chair Hutton said he had been blocked from removing Arthur and Moxon from the board because the Colin Graves Trust vetoed it.

Graves was Hutton’s predecessor as chair and served as ECB chair from 2015 to 2020.

Hutton said he wanted to remove them “as a consequence of the failure to understand the gravity of the situation (regarding Rafiq) and failing to apologise, and particularly for their failings and to move on the recommendations”.

He said it was “wrong” that a major creditor like the Trust should have the power to veto board decisions.

Asked why no disciplinary action had been taken against Ballance, Hutton said: “The short answer is, I had no executive authority or responsibility in my role.”

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