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The racism storm that has engulfed Yorkshire County Cricket Club – sparked by serious allegations from former player Azeem Rafiq – took another twist when the ECB indefinitely suspended the county from hosting international cricket at Headingley.
Rafiq first raised allegations of racism more than three years ago, before a series of interviews in 2020 brought the matter into the public domain.
Yorkshire ordered a review, which found that he had been the victim of “racial harassment and bullying”, but did not punish any individuals connected to the club.
The entire review was handed to the ECB and Rafiq last week. On Monday, via ESPNcricinfo, it emerged that a player calling Rafiq a “p**i” had been dismissed as “banter” in the report. That sparked a furious reaction, including from politicians, and a mass exodus of sponsors.
Nike today joined Emerald, Yorkshire Tea, Tetleys, Anchor and Harrogate Spa in ending their association with the county.
On Wednesday, Gary Ballance, the former England batter, admitted to using “racial slurs” towards Rafiq, who he considered his “closest friend” in cricket.
The ECB, who govern the game in England and Wales, met on Thursday following a tumultuous few days, and issued a swift and damning statement.
“It is clear to the Board that YCCC’s handling of the issues raised by Azeem Rafiq is wholly unacceptable and is causing serious damage to the reputation of the game,” read the statement. “The ECB find this matter abhorrent and against the spirit of cricket and its values.
“There is no place for racism or any form of discrimination in cricket and where it is found, swift action must be taken. This matter must be dealt with robustly if the sport is to demonstrate its commitment to truly being a game for everyone.”
They added six further points, the most dramatic of which was the indefinite removal of major matches at Headingley, “until YCCC has clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and First Class County”.
Major matches include England men’s and women’s internationals, as well as the Hundred finals. Yorkshire are due to host England men in Test matches against New Zealand (2022) and Australia (2023), as well as an ODI against South Africa next summer. As things stand, these matches will be stripped from them.
The ECB took immediate action against Ballance, too. While he has not represented England since 2017, he is indefinitely suspended while an “ECB regulatory investigation into his conduct” takes place.
The ECB said that Yorkshire’s “failure in relation to actions and responses to their own report represent a significant breach of its obligations to the game” and added that “sanctions including, but not limited to, financial and future major match allocations may be considered at the conclusion of our investigations”.