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

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Azeem Rafiq: Yorkshire players ‘constantly’ made racist comments and county chiefs did nothing about it
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Yorkshire players “constantly” made racist comments such as “P***” to Azeem Rafiq and other players of Asian descent, the former England youth captain has told MPs.

On Tuesday, the 30-year-old gave evidence to the DCMS Select Committee in parliament before former chairman Roger Hutton and ECB chief executive Tom Harrison faced MPs.

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.

He added: “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 teammates. 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.

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. In 2018, his first child was stillborn after a difficult pregnancy and the cricketer teared up while discussing the tragedy, which he said Yorkshire bosses gave him little support for.

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.”

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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.”

Additional reporting by PA Media.

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