No room for complacency after Azeem Rafiq speaks out as cricket must address grim truth of racism in game

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5-min read
No room for complacency after Azeem Rafiq speaks out as cricket must address grim truth of racism in game
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Michael Vaughan was right — Azeem Rafiq did “get Yorkshire going”. In fact, he got English cricket going, just not in the way either of them had once imagined he might.

Vaughan was writing in his Daily Telegraph column this month, admitting that he was named in the report into racism at Yorkshire but denying the allegations. He spoke about the Rafiq of 2009, a “young, dynamic” cricketer, “full of energy and buzz” with everything ahead of him.

Yesterday, Rafiq sat before MPs at Westminster, a cricketer broken by the system but a man unbowed. He has turned the archaic institution of Yorkshire cricket upside down. The shockwaves have been felt at many of the other counties. The working theory has been that while every county has issues, Yorkshire’s were the most overt (as the regular abuse of players at Scarborough would attest). That theory is about to be put to the test.

More stories will come in the following days and weeks. It is hard to believe anything will be as confronting or affecting as the double-whammy of almost two hours of the spoken word, delivered emotionally and articulately, with hateful language served up matter of factly, followed by a 57-page written document repeating the same words, and worse.

But the hallmark of this story has been that every time you believe a new depth has been plumbed, something worse comes along. However tough that may have been, the game must brace itself for things to get grimmer before they get better.

As Rafiq said, there were those in the game who doubted him. Since the series of explosive interviews last summer, his main outlet of expression has been Twitter. Following him there without knowing him personally, it was easy to wonder if he was a little impulsive. He was quite the opposite: a picture of calmness and composure.

His allegations shone a light on the culture of every corner of men’s cricket in England, from a club changing room in the mid-2000s — when wine was poured down the 15-year-old Muslim’s throat — to the England dressing room occupied recently by Gary Ballance and Alex Hales and many of those whose international careers are still running. Hales, by the way, truly does have an unmatched ability to become connected to controversy in English cricket.

And they provided a reminder that everyone has a role to play here. Some of the most striking lines of Rafiq’s remarkable testimony relate to Vaughan — as an allegedly active participant in Yorkshire’s racism — and Joe Root, who Rafiq believes was a passive onlooker. Racism would not stick in their minds, says Rafiq, as it meant nothing to them. Many of us, at some stage in what we might feel is the distant past, have been the onlooker. That cannot happen again.

Azeem Rafiq became emotional during his evidence (House of Commons/PA) (PA Media)
Azeem Rafiq became emotional during his evidence (House of Commons/PA) (PA Media)

Rafiq was by some distance the most impressive individual on show. Anyone familiar with Select Committee hearings, or indeed British politics, expects grandstanding questioning. It was especially jarring to hear Rafiq asked if he would consider working with Yorkshire to help bring the sponsors back and who he thought would win the Ashes. An MP wondering how “anyone who loved cricket could be racist” showed a tone-deafness about the country we live in. And that is before we get to the fact that the panel was exclusively white.

The cricketing figures that followed Rafiq were disappointing. Roger Hutton, the short-lived Yorkshire chairman, was clearly well-intentioned but not strong enough to change attitudes. And ECB chief executive Tom Harrison left us with more questions than answers in a muddled display.

Is the ECB’s role as both promoter (a commercial body) and regulator (a moral compass) compatible? Harrison has been a good CEO in relation to the former, but has been too corporate-minded for the latter. Quite how a separation would look is not yet clear, but now might just be the time to start.

Tom Harrison arrives for the DCMS hearing (AFP via Getty Images)
Tom Harrison arrives for the DCMS hearing (AFP via Getty Images)

Harrison steered English cricket well through the first year of the pandemic before things began to go awry. These have been a tough few months, although that big impending bonus will soften the blow.

The ECB have taken steps to improve engagement with minority communities, to close the gap between participation at recreational level and representation in the professional game, but is it too late? More, certainly, will need to be done to repair the damage done by these revelations.

Is the Professional Cricketers’ Association, an organisation that does so much good but has been utterly limp on the issues of the last couple of years, fit for purpose (especially, by the way, while every one of its employees is white)?

Rafiq has got English cricket going, and further skin-deep change is inevitable over the coming days. It is hard to believe that any member of the Yorkshire coaching staff keeps their job.

Players will likely be driven out of the game; Harrison might slip off into the night; more counties will lose sponsors and leaders, although having been handed the playbook of how not to handle the crisis, it is hard to believe that any will get it as wrong as Yorkshire.

The question is whether a more fundamental shift takes place. It is easy to assume, after a day as shocking as yesterday, that such change is inevitable. But there is no room for complacency.

Read More

Azeem Rafiq statement: Breakdown of allegations against key figures including Michael Vaughan, Andrew Gale and Gary Ballance

Azeem Rafiq testimony ‘blowing the lid off behaviour in cricket’

Middlesex urge former player to come forward with experiences of racism in cricket after Azeem Rafiq testimony

Azeem Rafiq: English cricket is ‘institutionally’ racist

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting