Testimony by former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq reveals discrimination and racism

Nov 17, 2021: Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafique burst into tears when he told British lawmakers on Tuesday that he had lost his cricket career to racism, testifying to the widespread discrimination in the English game.

An independent report found that the Pakistani-born player had suffered “racial harassment and bullying” while playing for a county club but said it would not discipline anyone involved in racism – a decision widely welcomed with disbelief.

The scandal has had a devastating effect on the Yorkshire club, with sponsors pulling out in a mass exodus, the resignation of top management and hosting lucrative international matches in doubt.

Tuesday’s hearing by the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sports gave Rafiq the opportunity to speak out in parliamentary privilege – the freedom he used to share his painful experiences.

“I felt, isolated, humiliated at times,” said the 30-year-old. “Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian background… there were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant-washers’.

“The word ‘Paki’ was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”

The off-spinner, who said he once dreamed of playing for England, said cricket was marred by institutionalized racism “up and down the country”.

Rafiq, a Muslim, recounted the horrific experience of being “pinned down” and forced to drink alcohol at the age of 15 at his local cricket club. And in one of the most emotional parts of his testimony, which lasted about 100 minutes, he talked about “inhumane” treatment through Yorkshire when his son was still born in 2017.

“They weren’t really bothered about the fact that I was at training one day and I get a phone call to say there’s no heartbeat,” he said, his voice cracking.

Rafiq, who had two spells at the club, said: “Do I believe I lost my career to racism? Yes, I do.”

He also mentioned the names of several former teammates, talking about how former England internationals Matthew Hoggard and Gary Balance, who are still in Yorkshire, racially abused him.

“‘Kevin’ was something Gary used to describe anyone of colour in a very derogatory manner,” he said. “It was an open secret in the England dressing room.”

Rafiq said 2005 Ashes winner Hoggard had phoned him to apologise for the comments he had made.

He also said he found it “hurtful” that England Test captain Joe Root, who has spent his career at Yorkshire, had never witnessed anything of a racist nature at the Headingley-based club.

“Rooty is a good man. He never engaged in racist language,” Rafiq said.

“I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary (Ballance)’s housemate and had been involved in a lot of the socialising where I was called a ‘Paki’.”

On Monday, current England spinner Adil Rashid, along with former Pakistan Test player Rana Naveed Al Hasan, alleged that former England captain Michael Vaughan had said in front of a group of Asian players in Yorkshire in 2009: “Too many of you here. We need to do something about it. ”

Vaughn categorically denies having said it. To which Rafiq said: “Michael probably doesn’t remember that … the three of us, Adil, me and Rana remember him saying it.”

Rafique, in his review of the diversification measures of the England and Wales Cricket Board, said that these were examples of “box ticking” and “tokenism”.

After the testimony by Rafiqu, ECB chairman Tom Harrison,  faced an intense grilling from the MPs, and admitted the organisation had let Rafiq down, saying tackling racism in the game would be a priority.

“We will fix it fast,” he said. “We know the survival of our sport depends on it. We will transform this game very quickly.”

But committee chairman Julian Knight, who said Rafiq had given “harrowing personal testimony”, warned the ECB it had a huge task on its hands, with other players at Yorkshire and elsewhere also coming forward with allegations of racism.

“The ECB failed to take decisive action at the outset and it is clear there is much work for it to do as a national governing body and a regulator if cricket’s tarnished reputation in this country is to be restored,” said Knight.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the evidence was “concerning”, adding: “There is no place for racism in sport. “There is no place for racism anywhere in society.”

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