Azeem Rafiq and Yorkshire: What is going on?

While most of the cricketing world has its eyes on the World Cup in the UAE, there is a huge crisis in Yorkshire. As you can tell from the title, this crisis involves Yorkshire County Cricket Club and former captain Azeem Rafiq.

For those that are unaware of the situation, here is a brief background of events and why this is such big news.

In September 2020, in an interview with ESPNCrininfo, Azeem Rafiq explained that he had been close to suicide as a result of the “institutional racism” he had suffered while playing for Yorkshire. Yorkshire hired an independent law firm to lead their investigation and review in response to Rafiq’s claims.

In November 2020, Rafiq released more information about the abuse that he received. He revealed that non-white players were called “P****” and “elephant washers”.

Everything went rather quiet until the summer of 2021. In August 2021, the Chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) Ian Watmore called on Yorkshire to release the findings of their investigation. This came after Yorkshire admitted they failed to “resolve the issues” between the club and Rafiq. The report was not released, but Yorkshire did apologise to Rafiq as they found he was the “victim of inappropriate behaviour.” What a load of nonsense!

In September 2021, Julain Knight MP added his voice to the growing list of people calling for Yorkshire to publish their report. He said, “it is crucial that the process, the report, and its full findings are made public and open to scrutiny.”

Yorkshire finally did what they were supposed to do and released their findings. However, there appeared to be a diversion tactic here. The report was released on the same morning as the 5th test between England and India was cancelled. Yorkshire had hoped that they would be the second-biggest news story of the day.

The report accepted that Rafiq had been a victim of “racial harassment and bullying.” However, only seven of Rafiq’s forty-three allegations were upheld. Yorkshire was insistent that there was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove institutional racism. How convenient!

However, the full report was again not published. Rafiq’s spokesperson rightly annoyed accused Yorkshire of “protecting the players and a coach who they now acknowledge used either racist language or were bullying.”

Here is where it gets fascinating. In October 2021, Yorkshire announced that it would take no disciplinary action against its employees, players, or executives. They did not believe that there was any conduct that warranted disciplinary action.

Then all of a sudden, November 2021 hits, and ESPNCricinfo drops a bombshell on us. They were able to reveal more details of the report. This included the admission of one senior player that he was used the word “p***.” However, the report concluded that it was friendly banter. You really cannot make this stuff up.

That senior player was revealed to be former England cricketer Gary Ballance. He made a statement in which he claimed that “both men said things privately to each other that was not acceptable.” Great apology Gary. He has been suspended from England selection indefinitely. Not like he was ever going to be selected anyway.

Since then, there have been resignations by executives, Yorkshire has been suspended as an International venue and sponsors have ended their association with the club.

Interestingly, former England captain Michael Vaughan has been named in the report. However, he does categorically deny ever being racist. However, ESPNCricinfo spoke to former Yorkshire cricketer Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. He was kind enough to confirm that Vaughan used racially insensitive language to a group of Asian players at Yorkshire. The former England captain, ladies, and gentlemen.

To be honest, there are not many words to describe this whole debacle. The one word that comes to mind is a disgrace. This is one of English cricket’s great clubs and this is how they treated non-white players. Not only that, look at how they tried to cover it up instead of trying to rectify the issue.

It is mind-blowing that not only did Yorkshire hide their findings, but they did not believe it was necessary to punish someone like Gary Ballance who had used such a derogatory term. They described it as friendly banter. They did not think it warranted disciplinary action. Let that sink in.

This summer, Sky Sports released a couple of documentaries. The subject centered around the lack of minorities playing cricket in England and why that was the case. Well, here is your answer ladies and gentlemen. Why would anybody want to subject themselves to this?

The sad thing is that nobody was shocked by the findings in this report. We all knew Rafiq was not lying, mainly because it felt like an all too familiar story for minorities in all walks of life. Unfortunately, Rafiq’s story is one many people can relate to. Until the people in charge of these organisations change, you get the feeling that Rafiq’s case will happen again.

As for Rafiq, he has been through hell and back. He will have his opportunity to give evidence to MPs later this month. Yet, is this a win for him? He has been proven right, yet it still feels like a hollow victory.

Many people have said that Yorkshire encapsulates England cricket’s long-standing racist behaviour and they are right. However, you could go a couple of steps further and look at racist behaviour in the United Kingdom. There is a reason Yorkshire did not want to release those findings, it is because they thought they would be protected as they had probably been in the past.

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