English cricket is ‘institutionally’ racist- former Yorkshire player


English cricket is “institutionally” racist, says former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq. Rafiq, 30, told a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee that racist language was “constantly” used during his time at Yorkshire.

In an emotional testimony, he also said the club gave him “inhuman” treatment after his son was still-born in 2017. He added the issues he faced at Yorkshire are “without a shadow of a doubt” widespread in domestic cricket.

Rafiq said he had lost his career to racism, which is a “horrible feeling” but that “hopefully” by speaking out there will be “massive change in five years’ time”.

“All I wanted was an acceptance, an apology, an understanding, and let’s try and work together to ensure it never happens again,” he continued.

“I was not going to let this go, no matter how much damage it causes me – I was determined to become a voice for the voiceless.”

In wide-ranging testimony, Rafiq also said:

  • All he ever wanted to do was realise his “dream” of playing for England
  • Racist language, including terms aimed at his and others’ Pakistani heritage, was used “constantly” and “never stamped out” during his time at Yorkshire
  • The use of such terms was racist and not “banter” as the report had concluded
  • It left him feeling “isolated” and “humiliated”, with racist comments made by others in front of team-mates and coaching staff but not challenged
  • The use of such language was so common it “became the norm” and people at the club “didn’t think it was wrong”
  • He “didn’t realise” and was “in denial” about the scale of the problem during most of his first spell at Yorkshire, up until 2014
  • He thought “things had changed” when he returned for his second spell in 2016
  • But the atmosphere became “toxic” after Gary Ballance took over as captain later that year, shortly after former batter Andrew Gale replaced Jason Gillespie as head coach
  • Aged 15 and a practising Muslim, he was pinned down by a senior player at his local cricket club and red wine was poured into his mouth
  • He said he did not drink alcohol again until “around 2012” when he felt he had to “to fit in” at Yorkshire
  • He said he “wasn’t perfect” and was “not proud” of some of the things he did and said while drinking, but these have “no relation” to the racism he was subjected to
  • The report into his allegations was “shoddy at best” and the panel failed to speak to key witnesses

Scale of racism in cricket is ‘scary’

Rafiq was giving evidence to MPs after a report found he was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” but the club said they would not discipline anyone.

Yorkshire’s former chairman Roger Hutton subsequently addressed the committee, followed by representatives from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), including chief executive Tom Harrison.

Hutton, who offered his “profound apologies” to Rafiq, said Yorkshire’s director of cricket Martyn Moxon and former chief executive Mark Arthur “failed to accept the gravity of the situation”.

“They have not wanted to apologise or take the recommendations of the panel going forward,” he added.

When asked by Damian Green MP if he thought cricket was institutionally racist, Rafiq replied: “Yes, I do.”

In response to a question by Julian Knight MP, chair of the DCMS select committee, on whether the issues he faced were “replicated” at other counties, Rafiq said: “It’s a problem up and down the country.”

Former Yorkshire academy players Irfan Amjad and Tabassum Bhatti have alleged they received racist abuse while at the club.

Essex are facing racism allegations and encouraging those that have experienced discrimination to come forward.

Last week Essex chairman John Faragher resigned following an allegation he used racist language in a 2017 board meeting, which he denies.

Former Essex players Zoheb Sharif and Maurice Chambers have both alleged they suffered racist abuse at the club.

Rafiq said the scale of the problem is “scary” and there have been “denials, briefings, cover-ups, smearing”.

He claimed that British Asian representation in professional cricket since 2010 dropped nearly 40% and that England have missed out on “a hell of a lot of talent” because Asian and black cricketers have been subjected to racism.

Rafiq also called on the ECB “to make tangible change”.

Anti-racism and anti-fascism campaign group Hope not Hate chief executive Nick Lowles said Rafiq’s testimony was “heartbreaking” to watch.

“What is most troubling is that what Azeem Rafiq has experienced is not an isolated incident, in cricket or across sport more generally.

“Azeem Rafiq’s bravery in speaking out against those who abused him needs to be a turning point – this is an opportunity to stand in solidarity with Azeem and run racism out of sport, once and for all”.

Yorkshire chairman Lord Patel said it was an “incredibly difficult day” for all at the club and that Rafiq’s testimony was “harrowing and upsetting”.

He added: “There is no quick fix to the clear problems which have been identified, and the issues are complex, not least the charge of institutional racism which must be addressed head on.” (BBC Sport)

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