South Asian players 'feel like outsiders in Yorkshire grassroots cricket'
Grassroot cricketers of South Asian heritage can be made to feel like outsiders at amateur clubs in Yorkshire, MPs investigating the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal have been told.
Members of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Committee - which heard shocking testimony last month from Mr Rafiq about his treatment while playing for Yorkshire CCC - heard evidence this morning from representatives of the Quaid e Azam Premier Cricket League. It is a Yorkshire-based Sunday cricket league which was set up in 1980 and predominantly, although not exclusively, is made up of Asian players.
Adil Mehmood, executive finance officer of the league, told the hearing that he has also played in the Bradford Cricket League.
When asked if he heard been subject to the same racist language that Mr Rafiq had described being subjected to at Yorkshire CCC, Mr Mehmood said: "It didn't happen to me but I have heard from a few people it has been the case."
He added: "At the grassroots level, I play in the Bradford League. Honestly you feel like an outsider. You never gel with the team. It is a mindset within the teams and club and it has been accepted. I've played for three different clubs and I have always felt the outsider, I have never felt like, 'Ok, I'm part of the team'.
"The first club that I played if there was only two of us South Asian players and the rest was all English players. The second club that played it was three of us South Asians. The club that I'm currently playing, there's five South Asian players.
"As you can see, the South Asian players within the clubs is increasing. Clubs are struggling for players as well at the same time and they're mostly dependent on the South Asian people to come and play. But if you won't give them the same sort of opportunity, and consider them as a member of your own team that's what happens - you don't stay in one club. You play for a couple of years, and then you realise 'No, there's always something that happens' and then you move on to another club."
Committee chair Julian Knight MP highlighted previous comments from former international cricketer Imran Khan in 1999 where he claimed "cricketing apartheid" was "accepted practice" in Yorkshire with Asian players not given a chance at a higher level.
Basharat Hussain, executive chairperson of the Quaid e Azam Premier Cricket League, said in response that there were a "multitude of issues" preventing more Asian players reaching the professional game, including the "financial issues" for parents in supporting promising teenage children by buying them the right equipment and taking them around the country to matches.
"Finance is one of the biggest barriers. The parent might have to decide whether to put food on the table or take their child to a game of cricket."
The committee raised a statistic highlighted by Mr Rafiq during his evidence session in which he noted that while over 30 per cent of amateur cricket players are from the British Asian community, that drops to just four per cent at the professional level.
Mr Mehmood said: "I was playing when I was 17 and there were kids of nine, 11 and 13 at the same club. There were lots of Asian players but I haven't seen anyone progress to the county level. They were talented enough. I don't know what is wrong within the system that they are not making it through."
He said part of the issue was a lack of available facilities, sometimes requiring families to make an hour's drive to get to a suitable ground as well as young Asian players switching clubs in the way he has done himself.
In response to the Yorkshire racism crisis, the ECB has published a 12-point action plan for the game to tackle racism and discrimination at all levels.
It includes an aim of a minimum 20 per cent gender diversity and appropriate level of ethnic diversity for professional and recreational coaching staff as well as pathway coaches by 2025.
A review into dressing room culture in all international and domestic teams will begin immediately while counties are set to implement multi-faith rooms and alcohol-free zones at grounds to help ensure venues are welcome to all.
When asked if the proposals will make a difference, Mr Mehmood said: "We hope for the best but we don't really know until they execute the plans they are making."
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