Yorkshire accused of ‘lack of genuine contrition’ by MPs over Azeem Rafiq racism

The former Yorkshire players says the county are institutionally racist.

David Charlesworth
Friday 10 September 2021 18:05
Yorkshire accepted Azeem Rafiq was the victim of racial harassment and bullying during his time at the club (Richard McCarthy/PA)
Yorkshire accepted Azeem Rafiq was the victim of racial harassment and bullying during his time at the club (Richard McCarthy/PA)

Yorkshire are facing possible sanctions from the England and Wales Cricket Board and have been accused of a “lack of genuine contrition” by MPs after accepting Azeem Rafiq experienced racial harassment and bullying at the club.

While Yorkshire and Rafiq remain at loggerheads over whether there is an institutional problem within the club, the county conceded for the first time on Friday that their former off-spinner had been subjected to racial abuse.

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chair Julian Knight demanded to know “what action will be taken” against unnamed former players and an ex-coach found to have used racist language by an investigative panel.

An independent inquiry was commissioned by Yorkshire 12 months ago after Rafiq alleged institutional racism in his stints at the club, where he had two professional spells between 2008 and 2018, left him feeling suicidal.

The panel returned its findings together with a set of recommendations last month but while Yorkshire say legal reasons prevent them from publishing the full report thought to be in excess of 100 pages, they released a summary.

In it they say Rafiq made 43 allegations, seven of which were upheld by the panel. While the rest were not, some of those were because of a lack of evidence, including the central claim of institutional racism.

Yorkshire chair Roger Hutton said in a statement: “There is no question that Azeem Rafiq, during his first spell as a player at YCCC, was the victim of racial harassment.

“He was also subsequently the victim of bullying. On behalf of all at YCCC, I wish to extend my sincere, profound and unreserved apologies to Azeem and to his family.”

Former England captain Nasser Hussain told Sky Sports “something needs to be done” after Yorkshire’s admission and the ECB has opened the door to disciplinary action after revealing it is considering its next step on the issue.

Nasser Hussain has called for the England and Wales Cricket Board to punish Yorkshire (Mike Egerton/PA)

ECB chair Ian Watmore said: “It is very concerning that the independent panel has upheld a number of allegations and concluded that historically Azeem Rafiq was the victim of racial harassment and of bullying.

“It is clear that the game owes Azeem an apology and we are happy to offer that apology to him. There is simply no place for racism in cricket, and what Azeem experienced was unacceptable.

“The ECB has only seen the statement and summary report for the first time (on Friday), so we will now examine the contents in detail to decide what further action is required.”

Yorkshire say the panel upheld a claim that Rafiq, who represented the club from 2008 to 2014 then 2016 to 2018, was not provided with halal food when playing junior cricket, something the county say has now been rectified.

There were three instances of racist language being used by ex-players prior to 2010 which amounted to harassment on the grounds of race, while before 2012 a former coach “regularly used racist language”.

During his second spell, jokes around religion were made which left individuals feeling uncomfortable, the panel found, and also in that time frame, a reference was made to Rafiq’s weight and fitness which amounted to bullying.

The report also accepted that there was a failure by the club in August 2018 to follow up on allegations Rafiq made at that time.

The final allegation to be upheld was that on a number of occasions prior to 2018 the club could have done more to make Muslims feel more welcome within their stadiums and should have dealt better with complaints of racism and anti-social behaviour within those stadiums.

MPs earlier this week implored Yorkshire to immediately publish the report it received, while Knight on Friday delivered a scathing assessment of their handling of the process and called into question their contrition.

He said: “It is concerning that YCCC was not initially willing to publish its findings and had to be pressed into doing so.

“Equally concerning is the lack of genuine contrition in YCCC’s statement. We now know that among the allegations upheld was harassment on the grounds of race following incidents of racist language used by former players and it being ‘regularly used’ by a coach. We need to know what action will be taken against those individuals involved.

Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has accused Yorkshire of a “lack of genuine contrition” (House of Commons/PA)

“It is critical is that YCCC acts on recommendations made by its investigators and is seen to do so with the utmost transparency and speed.”

The report found that all decisions made concerning Rafiq’s selection and ultimate release from the club were entirely based on cricketing reasons while Hutton said “there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is institutionally racist”.

Rafiq insisted otherwise and although he welcomed Yorkshire’s recognition of the racism and bullying he suffered – he accused the club of “fudging” the issue three weeks ago when they said he had been the victim of “inappropriate behaviour” – the 30-year-old demanded to see a full copy of the report.

A spokesperson for the former England Under-19 captain said: “We note that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has confirmed Azeem was the victim of racism and bullying during his two spells at Headingley.

“However, we must highlight the atrocious way this process continues to be handled. Azeem was not given any notice of the statement – he received a copy only a couple of minutes before the media.

“Azeem and his team are not in a position to properly understand the club’s conclusions and how they reached them, because Yorkshire has not provided a copy of the report. This is clearly unacceptable and an abuse of process.

“What is clear is that Yorkshire County Cricket Club admits racism and bullying has taken place on many occasions, yet won’t accept the obvious – that this is an institutional problem.”

Hussain was scathing of the timing of Yorkshire’s release, which coincided with the announcement that the fifth and final LV= Insurance Test between England and India at Emirates Old Trafford had been cancelled, though it is understood Yorkshire had been preparing the release prior to the international news breaking.

Hussain told Sky Sports: “What’s the saying? A good day to hide bad news. It felt like that this morning. Rafiq, with all he’s been through emotionally and financially, to put himself out and the abuse he’s taken, and been the victim of, he deserved ‘this is your day’.”

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