Yorkshire CCC reputation is beyond repair over Azeem Rafiq racism scandal – Peter Eastwood

“IT was just banter.” Some crises live longer in the memory than others. The departure of Richard Keys from Sky Sports in 2011 was shocking not only for the sexist remarks directed at football official Sian Massey, but also for Keys’ tone-deaf defence of his conduct.

Former player Azeem Rafiq has accused Yorkshire of institutional racism as MPs prepare to question club officials over their handling of the scandal.

Keys justified his actions by saying his comments were made in private, and by repeatedly protesting that all that was intended was ‘banter’. Sound familiar? The whole episode should have served as an important lesson. Not only does speech matter, but the way someone acknowledges why they are in the wrong and apologises matters too.

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More than a decade has passed since. If that sorry incident did serve as a lesson to some, then we can only assume that Yorkshire County Cricket Club were skipping class that particular week.

Former player Azeem Rafiq has accused Yorkshire of institutional racism as MPs prepare to question club officials over their handling of the scandal.

Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq alleged over a year ago that he was the victim of repeated racist abuse while playing for the county. Yorkshire’s responses to those allegations have made the situation worse at every turn. So intense now is the fallout and media scrutiny it is difficult to see how those running the county can salvage the situation, or their reputations.

In the eyes of the public and the media, they are complicit in the propagation and cover up of institutionalised racism. It’s impossible to overstate how dire this situation is: one of the most famous, storied cricket clubs in the world, tying itself in knots to justify repugnant language that is, frankly, indefensible.

Gary Ballance has become the first figure from the club to make a statement and confirm that he made racial slurs against Rafiq, but this story is bigger than one man, and it is now far too late to limit the damage.

Yorkshire have had ample opportunity to deal with this issue, but so hapless has their handling been of this crisis that they have contrived to take a PR disaster that was awful to begin with into apocalyptic territory. Yorkshire are now a reference point of how a once proud organisation can be exposed as rotten to the core. Rebuilding public trust will take years, if it can be done at all.

Former England batter Gary Ballance has admitted using a racial slur against ex-Yorkshire team-mate Azeem Rafiq.

This fallout could have been mitigated if Yorkshire had been more proactive, more transparent, had shown genuine contrition and had taken swift and definitive action once the results of the investigation had been returned. Instead, they have appeared unapologetic and intransigent. Each new leak of information has been a reminder that the full report has not been released, and the astonishing amount of time this has been allowed to drag on has poured petrol onto a growing bonfire of ill will towards the country.

Yorkshire needed a spokesperson to be the public face of their response, and to reassure Azeem Rafiq, Yorkshire members, the media and the general public how seriously they were taking the allegations. That YCCC chairman Roger Hutton’s appearance before the DCMS select committee will be the first time we hear from him publicly on this is weak leadership and undermines the Yorkshire board. It has also made Ballance the lightning rod for criticism, with people looking for somewhere to aim their disgust.

Yorkshire needed to apologise absolutely and unreservedly. In the broader context of increasing awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement and racist abuse in sport, to defend the use of a word that is universally understood to be racist as ‘banter’ beggars belief. Why would anybody interpret any subsequent apology the county makes with any sincerity?

Yorkshire needed to release the report in full and take definitive action to show how seriously it takes this issue. Refusing to publish the report and take action has pumped more oxygen into this story and encouraged people to construct their own narratives of just how deep the rot goes. A common refrain throughout the past two years has been a desire to see more action from sporting organisations, rather than words.

Former player Azeem Rafiq has accused Yorkshire of institutional racism as MPs prepare to question club officials over their handling of the scandal.

Yorkshire could have set an example, but they will instead become a case study in the worst possible way to handle a crisis. The scrutiny around racism at Yorkshire CCC will only intensify, and with that so too will the scrutiny on Rafiq, who must be under immense mental and emotional strain.

Even this late in the day, stories have emerged suggesting that some board members wanted the club to take a more bullish approach with Rafiq in public. This is now so serious that there is no way to PR spin their way out of this bind. Yorkshire and its board look completely out of touch.

Government pressure, sponsors pulling out, dissent amongst members: this is a full-blown crisis. Yorkshire need to take immediate and sweeping action if they are ever to have any chance of rebuilding the shattered confidence of the UK public. This should never happen again, but does anybody believe that it won’t?

Peter Jackson Eastwood is a sports business expert at The PHA Group, a public relations agency.

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