On 10 September, Yorkshire issued a “profound and unreserved” apology to Azeem Rafiq for the racial harassment he suffered while at the county. On Thursday, they were “pleased” to announce the actions they had taken in light of an independent report into his complaints of institutional racism. That action, of course, was none.
It seems in light of the county’s own investigations following the report they themselves commissioned, they concluded no one still at the club – be they employees, players or executives – needed to face any disciplinary action. Ah well. Move along, nothing to see here.
To be fair to Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) – and this is really meeting them more than halfway given how they have approached Rafiq’s allegations from when he first raised them to the club in 2018, then publicly last year – there is wiggle room in the findings of the panel. The three incidents they did chalk up as racist “occurred prior to 2010 and relate to former players using racist language that would amount to harassment”.
However, they do not tally with Rafiq’s own words. He has stated on the record that most of his allegations pertain to people currently in leadership positions at Yorkshire. That tallies with one of the seven of 43 allegations upheld in the report which states: “In August 2018, when Azeem Rafiq raised concerns of racism there was a failure by the Club to follow its own policy or investigate these allegations.” There has been little hierarchical shift at Yorkshire since.
Rafiq was not asked to give testimony, nor has he seen the report. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), having asked for it on 18 August, finally received a copy on Thursday afternoon. An ECB spokesperson confirmed it was full and un-redacted, and the report will not be all that is considered when they embark on their own regulatory process. Both points are the only sources of hope that justice might be served.
At this juncture, it is worth outlining what we know of the contents of the report. On the day the ECB demanded the report – they had done so privately earlier – ESPNcricinfo revealed witness statements reporting that multiple Asian players were called “smelly P***” and a senior Yorkshire player using the word “n*****”. More than one age-group coach also reports they were told not to select too many Asian youngsters.
Then there is what we know beyond its pages. That Rafiq was offered a six-figure sum as compensation along with a non-disclosure agreement. That at the beginning of this process, it was put to Rafiq his previous misdemeanours may come to the fore. There is also the small matter of briefings made in order to discredit him.
Time is a key factor in all this. Not just the years since Rafiq first made his allegations, or the 15 months since he went public. But also Yorkshire’s passivity in dealing with this matter.
At best, there are mitigations of due diligence, even oversight. The club conducted 29 interviews with 26 witnesses. Many refused; some, The Independent understands, because of how they were asked. Then there’s the collation and assimilation of the information gathered. There would have also been confusion over the next steps upon receiving the report, complicated by the legal issues over releasing it publicly.
But it is hard not to surmise much of this stalling has been to ride out the worst of the storm and, as cynical as it may be to think, test Rafiq’s patience. As this has dragged on unnecessarily, it is hard not to wonder about nefarious intent.
It is no secret Rafiq is enduring great emotional and physical distress. He has spoken openly about suicidal thoughts, existing as he is now, at breaking point. He has used social media as an outlet to voice his displeasure throughout. His desperation grows greater with each day, and the fear from those close to him is he may say or do something out of turn.
On Thursday, he used Twitter to clear-up shady grey areas still being used as a sanctuary for those who choose not to believe Yorkshire have done wrong. He, yet again, countered the suggestion the blame lay solely with former Yorkshire employees and re-produced the list of those on the panel, with nods to conflicts of interest. A statement put out through Rafiq’s representations called on the Yorkshire board to “do the decent thing and resign”.
There have been dark days, but Thursday felt like the most dispiriting. Even after an admission of guilt, there are apparently no guilty parties. Just a victim continually opening his wounds, huge swathes of the public wondering why nothing has been done and a sport sitting on its hands between Moments of Unity and occasionally bending down to take a knee when it suits them.
The anger has been loud, the tweets from the Yorkshire Twitter account ratio-ed, and the demands from cricketers, administrators and members of parliament crystal clear. Yorkshire have failed, but the ball is now in the ECB’s hands to not just confirm what we know – that Rafiq was a victim of racial harassment – but act and punish through their own investigations.
Of course, that will take more time, maybe even another year. It is imperative they go through the report and their own protocols exhaustively.
Rafiq will have to hold on a little longer and hurt a little more. And as much as his courage and endeavour is to be celebrated, he is now a clear example of why so many who have suffered abuse do not report it. To tell your truth, have that truth verified and still be ignored.
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