Racism suffered by Azeem Rafiq at Yorkshire CCC 'endemic across cricket', MPs declare

The racism suffered by Azeem Rafiq at Yorkshire CCC is "endemic" across cricket, a report by MPs has suggested.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport Committee has urged the Government to limit public funding for the game unless there is "demonstrable" progress in tackling racism within clubs and amongst spectators.

Mr Rafiq gave harrowing evidence to the committee in November in which he detailed being subjected to repeated racial abuse during his two spells at the club.It was a key moment in a major crisis over the matter for the club, with the scandal over Mr Rafiq’s seeing Yorkshire CCC stripped of hosting international matches, deserted by multiple sponsors and leading to the departures of its chief executive, chairman, head coach and director of cricket amongst others.

The issue has also embroiled some of the sport’s biggest names - with former England captain Michael Vaughan dropped from the BBC’s Ashes coverage over alleged comments made to Mr Rafiq and other Asian players which he has denied making. Commentator David Lloyd recently retired from Sky after being accused of attempting to smear Mr Rafiq and suppress allegations of racism.

Azeem Rafiq gave evidence to MPs about his experiences at Yorkshire in November.

A report by the committee published today said MPs “were convinced by Azeem Rafiq’s moving evidence of how he had been subject to racial discrimination and his conviction that this was not simply a personal issue but an endemic problem across the whole of cricket”.

The report also highlighted the evidence given at a second DCMS hearing in December which heard from grassroots players who said those of a South Asian heritage can be made to feel like “outsiders” at amateur clubs in Yorkshire.

The DCMS Committee said: “It is evident to us that there is a deep-seated issue of racism in cricket.

“More pertinent, it is evident that Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the English and Wales Cricket Board that there is an issue of racism in cricket.”

Azeem Rafiq during his playing days for Yorkshire

The committee has called on cricket to “clean up its act” and that future Government funding is dependent on “continuous, demonstrable progress in getting rid of racism in both the dressing rooms and in the stands”.

Currently around £2.5m per year of public money is given to the ECB, which had an average pre-Covid income of £273m.

Yorkshire and the ECB will be called to give evidence to MPs again in the coming weeks to update them on their progress in tackling racism.

Mr Rafiq today welcomed the committee’s findings and said it was “absolutely brilliant” the MPs intend to hold the ECB to account on tackling racism.

Yorkshire chairman Lord Kamlesh Patel has accepted the findings of the report.

“This just shows how seriously politicians are taking an issue that too many people in cricket ignored for so long,” he said.

“The committee understands how important it is to clean up the game.”

He added that he was “encouraged” by the actions of Lord Kamlesh Patel since he was appointed Yorkshire CCC’s chairman in the wake of the scandal.

Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS committee, said: “The powerful evidence given to this committee by Azeem Rafiq convinced us that his story was typical of an endemic problem across the whole of cricket.

“We commend him for having the courage to blow the whistle on unacceptable and discriminatory behaviour.”

Mr Knight added MPs on the committee had been “shocked by language people used in correspondence with us after the hearing” and criticised subsequent negative media coverage of Mr Rafiq he claimed was “designed to discredit him”.

But Mr Knight added: “However, this is a watershed for cricket in this country. Those who love and support the game are part of the solution and must play their part.”

“Changes introduced by Lord Patel at Yorkshire County Cricket Club give room for optimism, but alone cannot eradicate racism in the game.

“Public funding for cricket must depend on real leadership and progress by the ECB to tackle abhorrent behaviour, not just in the dressing rooms, but also in the stands.

“The Government must make future funding conditional on the game cleaning up its act. We put the ECB on notice that we expect regular updates delivered to this Committee on progress being made.”

Yorkshire chair Lord Patel said: “We welcome the Select Committee’s call for demonstrable action to rid our sport of racism and discrimination. Azeem Rafiq’s testimony was a watershed moment for the sport as a whole, and we are committed to ensuring that no-one endures the unacceptable experience that he did at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

“In the last two months Yorkshire County Cricket Club has made significant progress in our efforts to rebuild, and I am heartened that the Committee considers that there is room for optimism in what we have achieved. We share that optimism and have made some real improvements, but we are only at the start of this long and important journey.

“There is a lot of work to do across cricket to create an inclusive, accessible and welcoming sport for people from all backgrounds. It is my fervent hope that Yorkshire County Cricket Club can become a beacon for action and change, and lead the way in delivering the urgent progress which the Committee has called for.

“We will provide regular updates on our progress, as well as working alongside the ECB to deliver its game-wide action plan, using this once-in-a-generation opportunity not only to transform the game in Yorkshire, but also to provide a model for the future of the sport”.

Barry O’Brien, Interim ECB Chair, said the governing body was determined to deliver on the 12-point action plan to combat racism it had outlined in November.

“We welcome the committee’s recommendations and the focus of Julian Knight and committee members on achieving real change.

“We also embrace the ongoing scrutiny of the committee and all those that love the game of cricket who will be watching closely as we undertake the continuous, demonstrable, progress in eradicating racism from the dressing room and from the stands.

"We are determined to root out racism – and other forms of discrimination - from our sport.

“We look forward to updating the committee on the progress the whole game is making in delivering the 12-point Action Plan agreed in November to bring about the meaningful change we all want to see. We agree that sharing regular, public updates on our progress is important to rebuilding trust in our sport.

“We had already taken important steps to make cricket more inclusive in recent years - including our 2018 South Asian Action Plan, our 2019 Inspiring Generations strategy to make cricket a game for everyone, and launching the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket in early 2021 – however, we recognise that more needs to be done. We are deeply sorry for the pain people have suffered and recognise the courage it has taken to speak out.

"By working with the game to deliver the Action Plan, and continuing to listen and learn from people’s experiences, we are determined to make cricket a stronger, more welcoming sport.”

A Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: "We thank the select committee for its report into the disgraceful treatment of Azeem Rafiq by Yorkshire County Cricket Club and racism in the sport.

"The report notes there has been encouraging progress through the implementation of new governance structures, but there is no place for discrimination in society and we want to see clear and sustained evidence of cultural change in the sport.

"We will now consider the report's recommendations and continue to hold the England and Wales Cricket Board and the YCCC to account and take further action if necessary."

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