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Saturday, December 04, 2021

Azeem Rafiq, Yorkshire racism row and testimony: All you need to know

After Azeem Rafiq levelled allegations that he had been subjected to racism during his stay at Yorkshire, an investigation has now led to the resignation of several officials and sponsors at the county club.

By: Sports Desk |
Updated: November 19, 2021 7:31:24 am
Azeem Rafiq, an Englishman of Pakistani origin, is a former Yorkshire all-rounder. (File)

Over the past few weeks, a racism scandal involving the Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) has rocked the sport in England. After Azeem Rafiq, a former Yorkshire all-rounder, levelled allegations that he had been subjected to racism by players and coaches during his two stints at the county club, an investigation into his claims has now led to the resignation of several officials and sponsors at the club.

The racism row took a turn on Tuesday after Rafiq revealed more details in his testimony to the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) Committee in Parliament.

Rafiq said that former England batsman Gary Ballance would call everyone of colour ‘Kevin’ and former England player Alex Hales purchased a black Doberman dog and named it ‘Kevin’. The latter denied the claim. Commentator David Lloyd took to Twitter to apologise after he was accused of making disparaging comments, while broadcasters Sky Sports said they would be investigating his remarks.

Earlier, Rafiq had accused former England skipper Michael Vaughan of telling a group of Yorkshire players of Asian ethnicity, including him, that there were “too many of your lot” in 2009. “We need to have a word about that,” he had added.

Who is Azeem Rafiq?

Azeem Rafiq is a 30-year-old former professional cricketer who plied his trade primarily as an off-spinner. He was born in Karachi but moved to England in 2001 at the age of 10. He was the captain of the England U-19 team which included the likes of Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and James Vince. He was a part of the Yorkshire team from 2008 to 2014, and then again from 2016 to 2018.

During an interview with ESPNCricinfo last year, Rafiq claimed that “institutional racism” at the club led him to contemplate suicide. In response to his claims, the club launched an investigation afterwards and upheld just seven of the 43 allegations. Even after deeming Rafiq to be a “victim of racial harassment and bullying”, the Yorkshire board determined that no player, employee or executive would face any disciplinary action for the report’s findings on October 28.

The club said that the context of the comments was “banter between friends” and Rafiq should “take such comments in the spirit in which they were intended.”

What happened next?

After the club decided not to punish any individual for the racism row, things went downhill for Yorkshire. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) suspended the club from hosting international games at the Headingley Stadium on November 4. On the very next day, club chairman Roger Hutton resigned from his post. Several other board members also stepped down, including chief executive Mark Arthur.

England internationals Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Moeen Ali called for the ECB to tackle racism in cricket and expressed their solidarity with Rafiq. Former Pakistan and England international Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Monte Lynch also came forward with their own experiences with racism at Yorkshire. Adil Rashid, the England leg-spinner, also corroborated Rafiq’s claims against Vaughan on Monday.

Earlier this month, Vaughan had admitted in a column for The Daily Telegraph that he was the former player implicated in the investigation into Rafiq’s racism allegations at Yorkshire but “completely and categorically” denied the charges.

In a statement, current Yorkshire player Ballance revealed that he had called Rafiq a “P***” during their playing days together, but also apologised for using it.

Yorkshire’s sponsors, which includes Nike among others, also backed out.

On Tuesday, the UK Parliament initiated a hearing into the matter where Rafiq appeared to face questions from Member of Parliaments (MPs). The 30-year-old former cricketer told the lawmakers that he lost his career to racism. During the hearing, he also accused former England pacer Tim Bresnan of frequently making “racist comments”. Rafiq also accused former England coach David Lloyd of being a “closet racist” and later on, both Bresnan and Lloyd issued apologies on social media but the former, however, denied the racism charges against him.

Now what?

After stepping in as Yorkshire’s new chairman, Kamlesh Patel promised to bring about “seismic change”. He praised Rafiq as a whistleblower, and promised immediate steps in response to the scandal, including settling the employment tribunal for the cricketer and setting up an independent whistle-blowing hotline.

Nasser Hussain, the former England skipper who was born in India, wrote in The Daily Mail this week that the sport may be ready for a “brighter and more inclusive future” if all the talk about “seismic change” indeed bears fruition.

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