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

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Azeem Rafiq is giving evidence to MPs regarding his allegations of institutional racism at Yorkshire (House of Commons Handout/PA). (PA Media)
Azeem Rafiq is giving evidence to MPs regarding his allegations of institutional racism at Yorkshire (House of Commons Handout/PA). (PA Media)

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.

I felt isolated, humiliated at times

Azeem Rafiq

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

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.”

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

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’.”

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

Azeem Rafiq

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.

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). (PA Wire)
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). (PA Wire)

“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***’.

“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.”

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