Azeem Rafiq: Why MPs Are Investigating Claims Of Institutional Racism At Yorkshire Cricket Club

It’s more than a year since cricketer Azeem Rafiq claimed Yorkshire County Cricket Club was institutional racist. But the club – and the sport – was suddenly under greater scrutiny on Tuesday after a parliamentary committee said it would be investigating the handling of the case.

It followed a report on Monday suggesting a senior player admitted repeatedly using the word “P***” in reference to Rafiq, but that the phrase was deemed to be “in the spirit of friendly banter”.

Rafiq, 30, is a former White Rose player over two spells between 2008 and 2018. An independent inquiry was commissioned by Yorkshire in August 2020 after Rafiq alleged institutional racism at the club left him feeling suicidal. He made a total of 43 allegations against Yorkshire.

What did the report say?

In September, the inquiry’s panel returned its findings together with a set of recommendations. The report upheld that Rafiq had been a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” – but was unable either to prove or disprove institutionalised racism, due to insufficient evidence.

The club’s findings upheld seven of Rafiq’s allegations. 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.

Yorkshire only released a summary of the report, saying legal reasons prevented them from publishing the full report thought to be in excess of 100 pages.

Despite issuing what was termed a “full apology”, no employees of the club faced any further action. However, the England and Wales Cricket Board is investigating the document.

“P**” is not banter. Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If the England and Wales Cricket Board doesn’t take action it’s not fit for purpose.”Cabinet minister Sajid Javid

What did Rafiq say at the same?

In an immediate response to Yorkshire’s statement at the time, Rafiq wrote on Twitter: “Wow just when you think this club couldn’t get more embarrassing you find a way.

“Still awaiting the FULL report. Thanks for mentioning the people that have provided your PROTECTION & given green light to RACISM.”

Rafiq ended his tweet with the phrase “Interesting timing again”, a likely reference to the fact that Yorkshire released the summarised version of their report on the same day the fifth Test between England and India was called off.

He called for Yorkshire’s board to resign following the “inconceivable” decision to take no disciplinary action against any of their employees.

Yorkshire insisted the lack of disciplinary action did not diminish “the importance of the findings” or that there was much the club can learn from the report.

What happened this week?

On Monday, ESPNcricinfo published what it claimed to be details of the report, including a senior player’s admission that he had repeatedly used the word “P***” in reference to Rafiq, which on at least one occasion reduced the player to tears.

But Yorkshire concluded that the incidents in question amounted to “friendly banter”, and went on to say that it was “not reasonable for Azeem to have been offended”.

They said, according to ESPNcricinfo, that Rafiq might be “expected to take such comments in the spirit in which they were intended (i.e. good-natured banter between friends)… (so) it was not reasonable for Azeem to have been offended by (the other player) directing equally offensive or derogatory comments back at him in the same spirit of friendly banter.”

What next?

The revelation appears to have attracted the attention of politicians in Westminster.

On Tuesday, it was announced Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton is to be called by the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee to answer for the club’s handling of Rafiq’s claims.

DCMS chair Julian Knight said in a statement: “This is extremely concerning and it’s clear that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has questions to answer.

“We have monitored developments around the club’s handling of the serious allegations made by Azeem Rafiq.

“We want to see much greater transparency from YCCC – it is time for them to answer their critics. We intend to call the chair of the club before the DCMS committee to give a much fuller explanation than we have had so far.”

Meanwhile, health secretary Sajid Javid said “heads should roll” at Yorkshire.

Javid said on Twitter on Tuesday: “P**” is not banter. Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If @ECB_cricket doesn’t take action it’s not fit for purpose.”

Downing Street urged the ECB to look at the situation in Yorkshire “with the utmost scrutiny” and “take action where needed”.

A No 10 spokesman said Boris Johnson was “absolutely clear that racist language like that should never be used in any context whatsoever”.

What has the reaction been?  

Former England captain Mark Butcher has accused the club of being “in denial”.

Responding to the details reported by ESPNcricinfo, he told the Times: “It beggars belief. It’s not only completely tone deaf but totally in denial.”

The MP for Leeds North West – the constituency which covers Headingley – made clear on Tuesday that he would not allow the issue to rest.

Labour’s Alex Sobel tweeted: “I am very concerned to read today’s report. It’s not acceptable for any organisation to say clearly racist language is just banter.”

Nick Lowles, chief executive of the anti-racism campaign group Hope Not Hate, said: “Referring to someone by a racial slur is not, under any circumstances, ‘good-natured banter’.

“In 2021, we have a right to expect racism and intolerance to be taken seriously. We cannot sit idly by while institutions try to brush these problems under the carpet – we all have a part to play in refusing to accept racial intolerance and taking a stand against organisations who fail to tackle racism.”

Pressure is also coming to bear on Yorkshire on a commercial level. The Emerald publishing group – a primary sponsor of the county, which has naming rights at Headingley Stadium – has described its “dismay” at recent reports.

Has Rafiq responded?

Rafiq tweeted his own response on Tuesday evening. He wrote: “Over the last 14 months I have told both @PCA and @ECB_cricket that someone needs to show leadership & take this out of @YorkshireCCC hands.

“No-one believed me, no-one listened everyone tried to protect themselves and left me all alone to fight. TIME FOR THE FULL TRUTH.”

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