The former England batter Gary Ballance has admitted using “a racial slur” against his ex-Yorkshire teammate Azeem Rafiq whose claims of institutional racism are embattling the club on a political, commercial and reputational level.
Ballance, who played 23 Tests and 16 one-day internationals between 2013-2017, released a long and emotional statement on Wednesday during which he accepted he was responsible for some of the offensive and derogatory terms that Rafiq was subjected to during his time at Headingley.
The 31-year-old attempted to offer some context of his “incredibly close relationship” with Rafiq during their time together at the club, claiming both men “said things privately to each other which were not acceptable” but also offered remorse for his part of those exchanges.
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 teammate.
In a lengthy statement released via the county, 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 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 do anything to halt criticisms of Ballance, or calls for further censure and disciplinary measures, remains to be seen.
Explaining his reasons for going public with his version of events, Ballance said: “My family and I are deeply saddened and upset by the allegations recently levelled at me in the press and by the misleading and selective nature of the reporting in the last few days,” Ballance said.
“Throughout this process I have cooperated with the independent investigation and I have been completely honest and transparent with the club and the investigators at all times. Information and allegations have been leaked and reported in the press which in my view give a misleading impression of the evidence which was heard in the investigation.
“That does not mean that what passed between us was right or appropriate. It was not. Rafa said things to me that were not acceptable and I did the same with Rafa. I never said anything with any intended malice or to upset Rafa.
“Rafa and I remained closest friends throughout the time we exchanged these inappropriate comments. I am aware of how hurtful the racial slur is and I regret that I used this word in immature exchanges in my younger years and I am sure Rafa feels the same about some of the things he said to me as well.”
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