YORKSHIRE last night vowed to help captain Andrew Gale clear his name after he became the first county cricketer to be accused of racism.
Gale has been charged by the England and Wales Cricket Board for using racist and abusive language towards Lancashire batsman Ashwell Prince during the County Championship match at Old Trafford earlier this month.
Gale was banned for the final two games of the season as a mandatory penalty for verbally abusing Prince, which triggered an automatic Level 2 suspension under the ECB’s disciplinary code following an earlier offence of dissent.
The governing body – to widespread condemnation – decided that the ban extended to preventing Gale from lifting the Championship trophy after the game at Trent Bridge last Friday, saying only that they had lodged a formal complaint with their own Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) concerning Gale’s conduct in Manchester.
It emerged last night that this conduct relates to an alleged racist element to the remarks made towards Prince, a black South African, with Gale now facing a Level 3/Level 4 charge under the ECB disciplinary directive: Using language or gestures that offends race, religion, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin.
Yorkshire are adamant that there was no racial element to Gale’s words and, while not condoning his on-field conduct, are standing firmly behind him amid concerns that the matter has been blown out of all proportion.
The club have engaged a high-profile legal team to defend him, with the hearing due to take place on or before next Tuesday.
If found guilty, it is likely that Gale would face a further ban and/or fine.
The episode, which has taken the gloss of Yorkshire’s title-winning celebrations, relates to events that took place on the third evening of the match at Old Trafford.
Angered by Prince’s time-wasting tactics as Lancashire battled in vain to save the game, Gale advanced towards the batsman, who is understood to have sworn at him and told him to go back to his fielding position.
Gale allegedly swore back and told Prince to go back to his own country while including a reference to his Kolpak status, which prompted Prince to brandish his bat angrily towards Gale as the teams left the field.
Kolpak cricketers are those born outside England but able to play in this country as non-overseas players due to European Union law, which has historically led to some resentment among county professionals that they are taking the place of home-grown players.
The case against Gale effectively hinges on whether the word “Kolpak” is racist – which, if you were to take a straw poll of county cricket supporters, it is not: simply a term of cricketing employment rather than any reference to race.
For their part, Yorkshire will argue that “Kolpak” is neither disparaging of colour nor ethnicity but simply a term of reference.
Gale, who is unable to comment due to legal reasons, is understood to be devastated by developments and adamant that there was no racial aspect to the exchange.
Although clearly unwise to have sworn at Prince, the incident took place in the heat of battle, following provocation, and there is a feeling in the cricketing community – not just in Yorkshire – that the ECB are unfairly trying to make an example of Gale, perhaps after they were pushed into a corner by their own decision not to allow him to lift the trophy.
Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire’s director of cricket, last night declined to comment on the ECB’s decision or any specifics relating to Gale’s case.
But he insisted the club are standing behind him.
“We are going to do what we can to help him clear his name,” said Moxon. “The club will help Andrew in any way possible.”
The ECB last night declined to comment further on a matter which effectively pits chairman Giles Clarke at odds with deputy chairman Colin Graves, who is also chairman of Yorkshire.
Graves was placed in an extremely awkward position at Trent Bridge on Friday when asked why Gale had not been allowed to lift the trophy, a ruling which he must privately have thought was preposterous and cruel.
Yorkshire were only told on Thursday night that Gale would not be presented with the trophy, which he had worked all his career to win.
The trophy was instead presented to acting captain Joe Root, although the loudest cheer of the day was still reserved for Gale when he finally held the cup aloft after the official ceremony had ended.
Gale is expected to parade the trophy at Headingley next week after the final match of the season against Somerset, when the Yorkshire players will do a lap of honour of the ground.
Gale last night received support from former England captain Michael Vaughan, who branded the ECB’s actions as “very strange”.