Exclusive: ECB hosted Azeem Rafiq at Lord's Test days before charges were issued against Yorkshire

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Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq gives evidence during a parliamentary hearing at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee on sport governance at Portcullis House in London - AP
Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq gives evidence during a parliamentary hearing at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee on sport governance at Portcullis House in London - AP

Azeem Rafiq was treated to corporate hospitality by the England & Wales Cricket Board during this month’s first Test at Lord’s, days before it issued charges over the Yorkshire racism scandal.

The stunning revelation saw the governing body accused of a lack of independence and creating the perception of “bias” in its case against the club and the likes of former England players Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, Tim Bresnan and Gary Ballance.

It followed an extraordinary attack on the ECB’s handling of the scandal by Yorkshire’s last four chairmen, who declared it unfit to expose the full story behind Rafiq’s damning accusations of abuse at the crisis county and the botched handling of them and demanded a fully independent inquiry into the whole affair.

Colin Graves, Steve Denison, Robin Smith and Roger Hutton told Telegraph Sport the revelation compounded a litany of concerns each of them had over the disciplinary proceedings opened against the club and individuals charged last week over the scandal.

Those included that there had been no sign of Rafiq having been charged himself over an anti-Semitic slur that emerged in November, despite him admitting to it.

His appearance in the ECB’s own corporate box on day one of the first Test between England and New Zealand was confirmed to Telegraph Sport by a fellow guest, who said: “The great and the good of the ECB were taking it in turns to go and sit next to him.”

Another source claimed to have seen the organisation’s acting chairman, Martin Darlow, giving the chief witness in its investigation into the scandal a tour of the Lord’s media centre.

Graves, himself chair of the ECB for five years until 2020, branded the governing body’s feting of Rafiq “absolutely bizarre”: adding: “I just can’t get my head around it.”

Colin Graves poses for a portrait at Lord's - ECB
Colin Graves poses for a portrait at Lord's - ECB

Denison, who said he attended the Test on the same day as Rafiq, said: “I didn’t realise he was a guest of the ECB. That’s just ridiculous in the circumstances.

“It shows a complete lack of independence all round. Bias might be a better word to use.”

Smith said the ECB appeared to be endorsing “one side” of the case, while Hutton said: “It’s not a bright thing to do, in reality.”

Rafiq had made no secret of his attendance at the match, posting photographs and video clips on social media from what had appeared to be one of Lord’s’ corporate boxes.

That it was the ECB’s own box was confirmed by a fellow guest, who told Telegraph Sport there was “no question whatsoever” he had been there at the governing body’s invitation.

The guest added: “I was absolutely amazed to see him there, to be honest, given what’s going on and given charges that are levelled now against certain Yorkshire players and ex-Yorkshire players.

“It’s quite a staggering thing to do, to be perfectly honest, because it would undoubtedly be seen as a conflict of interest and potentially prejudice the process.”

The guest said Rafiq was one of “at least 40 people” in the ECB’s box on the day, along with senior figures from the governing body, New Zealand Cricket, and representatives from various religions.

“It looked like they were trying too hard to say, ‘Look at us; aren’t we completely inclusive?’, with Rafiq front and centre,” the guest said.

“Trust me, the great and the good of the ECB were taking it in turns to go and sit next to him.”

As revealed by Telegraph Sport, charges were finally announced last Thursday over the Yorkshire racism scandal, with the crisis club and “a number of individuals” facing action over accusations made against them by Rafiq.

Vaughan and the county’s sacked head coach Andrew Gale both face disciplinary hearings, with ex-Test trio Ballance, Hoggard and Bresnan reportedly among five others facing action.

Those charged stood accused of breaching the ECB’s rules on improper conduct, its anti-discrimination code, or both.

Vaughan and Bresnan have publicly denied making racially insensitive remarks, Ballance has admitted calling Rafiq “P---” as part of “banter” between them, while Hoggard and Gale have yet to comment.

Rafiq’s fellow guest at Lord’s said: “This has got the potential to blow up in the ECB’s face, and Rafiq’s face.

“The individuals who have been charged by the ECB, I suspect they will group together now and take very, very strong action.”

The ECB declined to comment, citing a policy of never talking about hospitality guests, but a source proclaimed those accusing it of a lack of independence “probably don’t understand how the regulatory process works” there.

That process involves officials from the governing body acting as investigators and then prosecutors under the oversight of an independently-chaired regulatory committee.

Cases themselves are heard by the Cricket Discipline Commission, which the ECB’s own website describes as an “arm’s length” body, with disciplinary panels comprising “three independent and suitably qualified and experienced individuals”.

However, investigations into recent major scandals in other sports – such as those into child sexual abuse in football and abuse in gymnastics – have been outsourced entirely to independent QCs.

A spokesman for Rafiq referred enquiries on his client’s attendance at Lord’s to the governing body.

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