MPs demand action as sponsors abandon Yorkshire over Azeem Rafiq racism claims

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Pressure is building on Yorkshire over their handling of Azeem Rafiq’s racism claims (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Wire)
Pressure is building on Yorkshire over their handling of Azeem Rafiq’s racism claims (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Wire)

A second major sponsor has abandoned Yorkshire over its handling of Azeem Rafiq’s racism claims, while political pressure continues to build on the club.

A prominent group of the county’s politicians – including former Labour leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves – have written to the England and Wales Cricket Board demanding action.

Emerald Group Publishing, primary commercial partners who held naming rights to Headingley Stadium, have followed shirt sponsors Anchor Butter in ending their association with the team, while pressure from the halls of Westminster continued to ramp up following health secretary Sajid Javid’s claim that “heads should roll” on Tuesday.

Rafiq’s allegations against the club have been in the public domain for over a year but the issue has begun to gather major momentum following revelations by ESPNCricinfo over the contents of an independent report into the matter.

The report upheld that Rafiq had been the victim of “racial harassment and bullying” during his time at the club, but it has since emerged that the panel determined repeated use of the word “P***” against the spinner was delivered “in the spirit of friendly banter”.

Yorkshire recently concluded that no employees would face any action as a result of the report.

Rafiq is set to appear in front of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s select committee in an evidence session that is understood to be taking place on November 16, and could offer up his fullest and most damning account yet given the presence of parliamentary privilege.

Yorkshire were already counting the cost of Anchor’s decision to cease its shirt sponsorship deal and now Emerald has followed suit.

A statement read: “We have today taken the decision to remove our brand association with Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Headingley Stadium.

Julian Knight will chair the DCMS committee hearing within a fortnight (PA) (PA Wire)
Julian Knight will chair the DCMS committee hearing within a fortnight (PA) (PA Wire)

“We do not tolerate any form of racism or discriminatory behaviour and the damaging effects this has. Our intention remains to continue a financial commitment to the stadium itself, which is also the home of Leeds Rhinos rugby, as we believe this supports the aims of diversity and inclusion in sport along with a range of charitable community endeavours.

“Emerald will, however, no longer sponsor Yorkshire County Cricket Club. We hope that YCCC will listen and respond with serious action to eradicate racism from the club and uphold the values we all expect.”

Shortly before that news broke, it emerged that the region’s two metro mayors, Dan Jarvis (South Yorkshire) and Tracy Brabin (West Yorkshire), had co-signed a sternly-worded letter to ECB chief executive Tom Harrison.

They were joined by another 34 local cross party MPs including prominent backbenchers Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper as well as assistant government whip Andrea Jenkyns.

It read: “We find any suggestion that using the word “P***” is “banter” truly abhorrent, but for the formal investigation to make such a conclusion brings the report and the club into disrepute.

“As such, the report further erodes confidence in YCCC’s commitment to being inclusive to all our communities. We therefore request that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) establish an immediate, comprehensive and independent inquiry into YCCC’s handling of the original allegations and the subsequent investigation.

“We maintain the inquiry must be conducted in a timely and transparent manner, with consequences for both the players responsible, and those board members who have failed to address this blatant racism.

“Cricket is an institution in Yorkshire. No matter who you are or where you come from, everyone should be able to enjoy our beloved game.

Azeem Rafiq was not afforded the dignity and respect he deserved, it now falls to the ECB to ensure this degrading incident is not repeated. We trust you will treat this matter with the urgency it deserves.”

Leeds MP Alex Sobel sent a letter to Yorkshire six weeks ago and is awaiting response (David Woolfall/UK Parliament/PA handout) (PA Media)
Leeds MP Alex Sobel sent a letter to Yorkshire six weeks ago and is awaiting response (David Woolfall/UK Parliament/PA handout) (PA Media)

The ECB only received a full copy of the report in Rafiq’s account last week and has promised a “full regulatory process that is fair to all parties”.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the ECB said: “We are conscious about the length of time that Azeem has waited for resolution and the toll that must be taking on his well-being and that of his family. We are sorry that, as a sport, this has not yet been resolved.”

Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel, whose constituency includes Headingley, signed the letter and also revealed to the PA news agency that he wrote to Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur six weeks ago raising concerns over the club’s handling of the issue, but received no response.

Sobel told PA: “They didn’t respond to a local MP who has the best interests of the club, and of Azeem, at heart.

“It is a reflection of Yorkshire’s poor handling of this. The club don’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation they are in. Racism should always be treated with the utmost seriousness and challenged. The club knew about the racist language for some time but chose to downplay it.”

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