Yorkshire batter Gary Ballance admits to using racial slur towards Azeem Rafiq

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Former England batter Gary Ballance has confessed to using “a racial slur” against his ex-Yorkshire team-mate Azeem Rafiq.

Ballance, who played 23 Tests and 16 one-day internationals between 2013-2017, released a long and emotional statement on Wednesday admitting his responsibility for some of the offensive and derogatory terms that Rafiq was subjected to during his time at Headingley.

The 31-year-old claimed he once enjoyed a deep friendship with Rafiq but that both men “said things privately to each other which were not acceptable” and offered remorse for his part of those exchanges.

His statement came on a day where Yorkshire faced mounting pressure from concerned politicians and departing sponsors.

Ballance’s name was redacted in a summary of the independent report into Rafiq’s wide-ranging allegations against Yorkshire, but it has been reported by ESPNCricinfo that the panel upheld claims he had been repeatedly called a “P***” by a team-mate.

In a lengthy statement released via the county, former Yorkshire captain Ballance wrote: “It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent enquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so. To be clear – I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years.

“I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate.

“I regret that these exchanges took place but at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress. If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately. He was my best mate in cricket and I cared deeply for him. To my knowledge, it has never been alleged that I reduced Rafa to tears.”

The independent panel determined those racial slurs were delivered “in the spirit of friendly banter” – a conclusion which has caused a wave of condemnation from prominent politicians and campaign groups and kicked off an exodus of Yorkshire’s commercial partners.

But it is a defence that Harare-born Ballance believes offers an accurate representation of his relationship with Rafiq. He says the former spinner “was my closest friend and supporter in cricket” and details Rafiq coming to stay with his family during a winter in Zimbabwe, as well as being invited to the latter’s wedding.

Whether any of these details do anything to halt criticism of Ballance, who signed a new three-year deal in September, remains to be seen but Yorkshire’s stance that no employees will face any disciplinary action is sure to be tested.

Any hopes Ballance had of Rafiq’s support in the matter appeared to dissolve when the latter took to Twitter, with a succinct post reading: “Funny how things change from complete denial to I accepted everything over a 14 month period ??”.

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

He tweeted on Thursday morning: “I’m not intending to say very much until the select committee hearing later this month. However, I wanted to stress this is not really about the words of certain individuals.

“This is about institutional racism and abject failures to act by numerous leaders at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and in the wider game. The sport I love and my club desperately need reform and cultural change.”

Ballance’s intervention, an 865-word narrative which finally broke a lengthy silence emanating from the club, came after a day of almost continuous external pressure on the White Rose county.

A host of other partners followed the lead of shirt sponsor Anchor Butter by severing ties with the club over their handling of the matter. Emerald Group Publishing has withdrawn its naming rights of Headingley Stadium among other tie-ins with the team, Yorkshire Tea has dissolved its association with immediate effect and Tetley’s Beer has confirmed it will back out at the end of its current deal.

Meanwhile, a prominent group of the county’s politicians – including former Labour leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves – wrote to the England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison demanding “an immediate, comprehensive and independent inquiry into YCCC’s handling of the original allegations and the subsequent investigation”.

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