Cricket racism scandal is an example of a divided Britain - Christa Ackroyd

This week Azeem Rafiq has been described as both a trailblazer and a hero.

Azeem Rafiq playing for Yorkshire during the NatWest T20 blast against Durham at Headingley in 2017. (Getty).

Sadly that is not how he described himself during his gut-wrenching 90 minutes of testimony to a House of Commons select committee which was excruciating to witness, but not as painful to have had to endure I am sure.

“I am either brave or stupid,”he told MPs when they thanked him for bringing to them his experiences and assured him he was both believed and valued. Because that is how low racism brings its victims when they are made to see it as their problem instead of ours. All of us. And that includes Azeem himself.

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He is brave. But he is now forced to confront his own wrongdoings. As we all must if we are to move forward. As I write, the former cricketer has apologised for an anti-Semitic tweet he made when he was 19, admitting his own sense of shame.

His actions cannot be excused and I admit I was shocked to find that a man brought so low by racism later in life, also at one time deemed it acceptable to make a joke about race himself. But at least he has accepted it was not. He offered no excuse and said he was sorry. That doesn’t mean he was not destroyed by racism. But yes, his own shortcomings should also have been stamped out at the time too.

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I presume it was then, as it was when he became the victim himself, dismissed as dressing room banter. It all goes to show how much the culture in cricket needs to change. And there is no doubt Azeem has been instrumental in beginning that process.

He has accepted the apologies of former teammates and members of the Jewish community have accepted his own apology and his statement that he is a very different person today.

So let us move on because there is one irrefutable truth, Azeem Rafiq was driven to the brink of suicide because of the colour of his skin and his ethnicity. A man who at 30 years old should still be playing cricket would now not even consider letting his own children follow in his footsteps.

And that was his message. Cricket, as it stands, is not a sport for young Asian boys and girls.

I love cricket and I love Yorkshire. But as I saw a man once destined for great things brought to tears I was ashamed of both.

The fact that many others have now come forward to report acts of discrimination within the game speaks volumes. This is not just an issue for Yorkshire County Cricket Club it is an issue for the sport nationwide, and society.

Racism destroys good people. The tragedy of this whole disgraceful episode is not just that it happened. Racism exists and to deny that is naive and wrong.

The greatest sin committed against Azeem Rafiq is that when he tried to call it out nothing was done. And when as a young man he felt it acceptable to do the same nothing was done then either. Who was it who once said for evil to triumph good men do nothing? I thought we had come further than that. Obviously we have not.

Azeem Rafiq never wanted to appear before the Digital Culture Media and Sports Committee. He never wanted to give up the game to open a fish and chip shop in Barnsley, the town where he grew up having arrived in this country from Pakistan aged ten.

He wanted to play cricket. And he was damn good at it. Cricket, he told MPs, was his whole life. And he thought he had achieved his dream when he joined a dressing room filled, in his words, with his heroes. All he ever wanted to do was to play the game.

As he intimated to the committee his youthful promise which saw him captain both Yorkshire and England Under 19s should never have ended like this. What should have happened as soon as he raised the issue is that Yorkshire called it out for what it was. It was not a bit of banter, or camaraderie.

It was divisive racism. And the moment it came to light every single person at Yorkshire Cricket Club should have been told that it was unacceptable. That it would not be tolerated and that if it happened again the perpetrators would be out.

Instead he went. What is more, those who used words which we all know are hurtful and destructive still believe they can now use the excuse they didn’t know how much it would hurt. That it was only banter. That sticks in my throat.

We all know it is wrong, just as Azeem knows his comments were wrong.

I am sorry but this is not a watershed moment. This is truly an example of a divided Britain. And if you don’t believe me, consider this. What happened after Azeem pours out his experiences?

South Yorkshire Police were reportedly called to his chip shop to investigate a man making a bomb threat. Put that aside and you only had to read some of the comments below his story in the national newspapers to realise racism is alive today. And he must know that in addressing his own shortcomings it will sadly give people the excuse to ignore what remains a serious problem.

So what can we do as individuals? We can do what Azeem Rafiq has done and call it out while at the same time looking at ourselves. We can reach out to our Asian friends and tell them that while we can never know what it is to walk in their shoes we will walk beside them. That we understand this is not cricket’s problem it is our problem.

Azeem Rafiq told the committee that if the game changed then he would realise he was put on this earth for bigger things than making runs or taking wickets. It is up to each and every one of us to ensure he does not live to regret his decision to speak out.

That must now be the legacy of this whole sorry saga.