Sponsors abandon Yorkshire County Cricket Club over Azeem Rafiq racism row

High-profile sponsors of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, including Yorkshire Tea and Emerald Publishing, have pulled back on their support for the club, as the row deepens over the club’s reported reaction to racist remarks made towards Azeem Rafiq.

A general view of fans watching from the stands at Headingley (PA)

Emerald is also removing its brand from the Emerald Headingley Stadium.

It comes as former England batter Gary Ballance admitted using “a racial slur” against former Yorkshire team-mate Mr Rafiq.

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The Prime Minister and MPs from across the House of Commons are among those now calling on the sport’s governing body to take a closer look at the club following revelations that a panel investigating Mr Rafiq repeatedly being called a “P***” reportedly dismissed the slurs as “banter”.

Yorkshire Tea said it was “upset to read about the experiences” of bowler and former England youth teams captain Mr Rafiq.

“We wholeheartedly believe that cricket should be a sport for everyone, but his experiences and the way the panel report has been handled don’t reflect that.

“Our current partnership with YCCC was naturally coming to an end but we have taken the decision to end it with immediate effect.”

Emerald Publishing, which took over the naming rights for Headingley in 2017, said that it was “(removing) our brand association” with the cricket

club and the stadium.

“We do not tolerate any form of racism or discriminatory behaviour and the damaging effects this has,” it said in a statement, adding: Our intention remains to continue a financial commitment to the stadium itself, which is also the home of Leeds Rhinos rugby, as we believe this supports the aims of diversity and inclusion in sport along with a range of charitable community endeavours. Emerald will however no longer sponsor Yorkshire County Cricket Club.”

Health brand David Lloyd Clubs and brewer’s Tetley’s have also disassociated.

Last night, Former England batter Gary Ballance has admitted using “a racial slur” against former Yorkshire team-mate Azeem Rafiq.

He said in a statement: “It has been reported that I used a racial slur, as I told the independent inquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so.

“This was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate.

“I regret that these exchanges took place but at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress. If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately.”

The admission came after Downing Street called on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) “to look at this with the utmost scrutiny and take action when needed.” Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister is absolutely clear that racist language should never be used in any context.

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"These are very serious allegations that must be investigated thoroughly and quickly.”

A cross-party group of MPs wrote to the ECB telling them that they want to see “consequences” for players and board members found to be at fault amid the scandal, asking for an “immediate independent inquiry”.

The letter from MPs and Mayors stated: “Cricket is an institution in Yorkshire. No matter who you are or where you come from, everyone should be able to enjoy our beloved game.

“Azeem Rafiq was not afforded the dignity and respect he deserved, it now falls to the ECB to ensure this degrading incident is not repeated.”

Signatories to the letter, organised by South Yorkshire Mayor and Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis included West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin, as well as MPs on both sides of the House, such as Conservative Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake and Penistone and Stocksbridge’s Miriam Cates.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves and former Labour leader Ed Miliband also put their name to the note.

A report previously found Mr Rafiq had been a victim of racial harassment and bullying after upholding seven out of 43 allegations he made.

Despite a “full apology” being issued, Yorkshire said last week it did not believe any club employee, player or executive had acted in a way that “warrants disciplinary action”.

The report has not been made public, but earlier this week, ESPNcricinfo published details from the report.