MP criticises Yorkshire's 'poor handling' of Azeem Rafiq racism case

Leeds MP Alex Sobel has criticised Yorkshire’s "poor handling" of the Azeem Rafiq racism case and said the cricket club "don’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation they are in".

Leeds MP Alex Sobel has criticised Yorkshire’s "poor handling" of the Azeem Rafiq racism case

Mr Sobel said he also wrote to Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur six weeks to raise concerns about the club’s response and was frustrated to receive no reply.

It comes a day after political pressure on the county escalated sharply, with health secretary Sajid Javid publicly stating “heads should roll” at Yorkshire over their response to a report into Rafiq’s allegations of institutional racism and the parliamentary committee for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport calling an evidence session into the matter.

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Mr Sobel represents Leeds North West, the constituency which includes the county’s home ground of Headingley, and he sent a formal letter to Mr Arthur on September 22 outlining his unhappiness at the situation.

Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel

The MP queried the club’s decision to release the findings of an independent report on the morning of September 10 – the day of the cancelled Old Trafford Test between England and India – and expressed dissatisfaction that the name of a coach who had been found to use racist language had been redacted.

He welcomed the panel’s subsequent recommendations but noted that Yorkshire had offered no timetable for compliance.

The letter was sent in private at the time but the Labour MP, who is still awaiting a reply, has decided to release the document following recent developments – including a report which suggests a player’s repeated use of the word ‘P***’ was deemed to be “in the spirit of friendly banter”.

Mr Sobel said: “They didn’t respond to a local MP who has the best interests of the club, and of Azeem, at heart.

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“It is a reflection of Yorkshire’s poor handling of this. The club don’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation they are in.

"Racism should always be treated with the utmost seriousness and challenged. The club knew about the racist language for some time but chose to downplay it.”

In his letter to Mr Arthur, the MP wrote: “I was concerned about several aspects of how the summary was released.

"I have been informed that Yorkshire gave Azeem almost no warning of the release of the statement and that the club did not offer to meet him or his legal team to discuss its contents.

“I have also received concerns regarding the timing of the report, that it was released at the same time that the cricketing world was focused on the unprecedented cancellation of England’s fifth Test match with India. This to me, and to the many cricket fans who have written to me, demonstrates that Yorkshire are still not facing up to the issues Azeem has bravely raised.”

Mr Arthur has been approached for a comment.

On the subject of the unnamed coach, whose use of racist and derogatory language to Rafiq was upheld, he added: “The use of racist and derogatory language in front of anyone, never mind someone from a minority background, is entirely unacceptable and should not be excused because it was not a direct attack.

“It also concerns me, because the coach’s name has been redacted from the summary, that every former coach will now have these allegations hanging over their heads.”

Urging Yorkshire to make fast and decisive changes in light of the report, he continued: “Absent from the statement, however, is a timetable or commitment as to when the recommendations will be implemented.

“The club has long been the country’s, if not the world’s, most successful cricketing county. Now it must heed the words of this inquiry and make it the most inclusive, diverse and welcoming for everyone, irrespective of their race, religion, gender, sexuality, age, disability or experience.”

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport committee hearing is expected to take place within a fortnight.

Yorkshire chair Roger Hutton has already been called to appear and it is understood Rafiq and other board members – likely including Arthur – will also give evidence.