Azeem Rafiq says racism rife in English cricket; recounts ‘inhuman’ treatment at Yorkshire

The former Yorkshire spinner tells British parliamentary panel of intolerable insults

Former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq broke down in tears on Tuesday as he told a British parliamentary committee of “inhuman” treatment at the cricket club and described the sport in England as riddled with racism.

Also read: Key statements from Azeem Rafiq’s testimony at parliamentary hearing

 

In more than an hour of questioning by members of parliament, Rafiq, 30, an offspin bowler and former captain of the England Under-19s of Pakistani descent, catalogued a damning culture of widespread racism at Yorkshire.

He and other players with Asian backgrounds were subjected to comments such as “You lot sit over there” and routinely referred to as “Paki”, Rafiq said. “I felt isolated, humiliated at times,” he added in emotional testimony to the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) panel.

The scandal has shaken English sport, cost Yorkshire the right to host England internationals, seen the club’s top brass quit, and embroiled former England captain Michael Vaughan and present England skipper Joe Root.

Rafiq, who played for Yorkshire from 2008-14 and again from 2016-18, recounted having red wine poured down his throat as a 15-year-old and spoke of Asian players being blamed for mistakes while they were fasting.

He spoke of being “ripped to shreds” by former coach Martin Moxon on his first day back after the death of his child.

He also said the racism he endured at Yorkshire was “without a shadow of doubt” replicated across the country and said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) were more concerned with box-ticking exercises than increasing the number of South Asian players becoming professionals.

Former Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton and Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), were due to answer questions later.

Hutton resigned following criticism of Yorkshire’s handling of an investigation into the claims first made by Rafiq in 2020. In his resignation latter Hutton said there had been “constant unwillingness” from members of Yorkshire’s hierachy “to apologise and to accept racism and to look forward.”

‘Racism is not banter’

Yorkshire have been removed as a host for international matches and have lost key sponsors.

New club chairman Kamlesh Patel has apologised, praised Rafiq for his courage and promised “seismic change”.

Rafiq did not hold back about his experiences at the club. He described the atmosphere in the dressing room under former captain Gary Ballance as “toxic”.

“Andrew Gale came in as coach, Gary Ballance as captain, and the temperature changed. I felt isolated. On tour, Gary Ballance walked over and said: ‘Why you talking to him?’ Going past a corner shop, I was asked if my uncle owned it,” he said.

“(Yorkshire director of cricket) Martin Moxon and (head coach) Andrew Gale were there. It never got stamped out.

“In 2017 we went through a difficult pregnancy and the treatment I received was inhuman,” Rafiq trailed off as he broke down.

Yorkshire said last week that Moxon was absent from work due to a “stress-related illness”, while Gale had been suspended for an alleged anti-Semitic tweet he sent in 2010.

Ballance, who played 23 Tests for England, had described Rafiq as his “best mate in cricket” but admitted he used a racial slur and regretted his actions.

“Paki is not banter, racism is not banter,” Rafiq added.

Rafiq also said he had been “pinned down” at the age of 15 and had red wine “poured down” his throat while Gale and Moxon did not show any compassion after the stillbirth of his son.

Asked about the scale of the problem in English professional cricket, Rafiq said: “It’s scary. It’s clear the problem is there. Everyone has known it for a very long time.

“It’s an open secret. I’ve seen that if you speak out, your life is made hell.”

Some of English cricket’s biggest names have been dragged into the controversy.

Rafiq says ex-England captain Vaughan told him and two other players of Asian origin that there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” before a match in 2009.

Vaughan denies that.

“It was a long time ago. He might not remember it because it doesn’t mean anything to him,” Rafiq said.

Rafiq has also expressed hurt that current England captain Root, a Yorkshire player, said he had never personally witnessed racism at the club.

“Rooty is a good man,” he told legislators on Tuesday.

“He has never engaged in racist language. Maybe he didn’t remember it, but it shows the institution that a good man like him cannot remember those things.”

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