By Anurag Hegde | Head of Sport
“I believe I lost my career to racism” were Azeem Rafiq’s words to the DCMS (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) Select Committee as he recounted several instances of racism during his time as a player at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. In what has emerged as one of the biggest cricketing scandals in recent times, the case of Azeem Rafiq has raised wider questions about racism and equity in the sport and it would be safe to argue that it has served as a stark but much needed eye-opener.
It began back in September 2020, when Azeem Rafiq, a former England U-19 captain and player for YCCC, alleged that he had been subject to racism and bullying during his two stints (2008-14 and 2016-18) at the club. Rafiq’s allegations and pressure from the media prompted the YCCC to conduct an independent investigation into the matter. However, the findings of the report and the stance that the club adopted in the aftermath of the investigation did more harm than good.
Firstly, despite being under a lot of pressure to do so, the YCCC refused to publish the report publicly and instead admitted that Rafiq had been “the victim of inappropriate behaviour” through a public summary of the report and apologised to Rafiq. However, a majority of Rafiq’s claims were dismissed due to “insufficient evidence” with only 7 of them being upheld. Despite recognizing that Rafiq had been a victim of racist treatment during his time at the club and apologizing for it, the YCCC concluded that it would not be taking any disciplinary against any members of staff, players or coaches.
The report further went on to state that the comments directed to Rafiq were made in the context of “banter between friends” and stated that Rafiq might have been “expected to take such comments in the spirit in which they were intended”.
The findings of the report and the conclusions that the YCCC had reached did not sit well with Rafiq and the wider cricketing community. The club faced widespread criticism over its reluctance to publish the report, which was first delayed on multiple occasions, and it eventually prompted parliamentary intervention as the DCMS ordered the report to be publicised and asked Rafiq to testify to the DCMS Select Committee.
During the parliamentary hearing that was held on November 16, Rafiq recounted several accounts of racist treatment he suffered during his time at the club. Rafiq named former England player Garry Balance as one of the perpetrators and claimed that he had used the racist slur “P***” on multiple occasions. Ballance admitted this was indeed true and stated that he “deeply regretted” some of the language he had used in the past. Former England captain Michael Vaughan was the other senior player Rafiq alleged had made racist remarks. Vaughan, however, denied all allegations and said that “I completely and categorically deny that I ever said those words”.
The YCCC has suffered massively in the aftermath of the ordeal. Their chairman at the time, Roger Hutton, resigned and has since been replaced by Lord Kamlesh Patel. The club also lost several prominent sponsors, including title sponsors Emerald and other leadings sponsors like Nike and Yorkshire Tea. In addition, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) suspended the club from hosting England’s matches and stated that Yorkshire’s handling of the issue was “wholly unacceptable and is causing serious damage to the reputation of the game”.
Speaking to the BBC after the hearing, Rafiq said;
“I’m incredibly relieved, like a massive weight off my shoulders. It’s really important that the game, and wider society listens to the experiences and we don’t let this moment go on and we try and use this moment as a real watershed moment for the future.”
Undoubtedly, the case of Azeem Rafiq will go down as an epochal moment in the history of the sport and it could lead to some fundamental changes in the English cricketing system.