Azeem Rafiq hearing: Star players and Yorkshire head coach accused of being part of racism and bullying scandal

Yorkshire County Cricket Club and English cricket have been plunged into a deepening crisis as some of the game’s biggest names were accused of being involved in a growing racism and bullying scandal.

Former England internationals Matthew Hoggard, Tim Bresnan and Alex Hales have all had claims made against them by whistleblower Azeem Rafiq, while further allegations from him state Yorkshire’s current head coach Andrew Gale - who is currently suspended by the club over an historic tweet containing an anti-semitic slur - repeatedly used racist language and was involved in “discriminatory treatment and bullying”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he expects Yorkshire and the ECB to take “immediate action” following the “brave testimony” of Mr Rafiq, who gave an account of his harrowing experiences of racism to MPs on Tuesday morning.

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Mr Rafiq said the word ‘P***’ was used constantly in the Yorkshire dressing room when he joined the club in 2007 and Asian players were called “elephant washers” and told “you’ll sit near the toilets”.

Azeem Rafiq giving evidence to MPs on Tuesday.Azeem Rafiq giving evidence to MPs on Tuesday.
Azeem Rafiq giving evidence to MPs on Tuesday.

“There just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no-one ever stamped it out,” he said.

He had two spells at the club - firstly between 2007 and 2014 and then between 2016 and 2018.

Mr Rafiq, who is now 30, said he had been “in denial” about what had happened during his first spell and initially felt happy to be at back before Mr Gale was made coach and Gary Ballance the captain.

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“For the first time I started to see for what it was – I felt isolated, humiliated at times. Constant use of the word ‘P***’.”

Former England player Alex Hales has been named in Azeem Rafiq's evidence.Former England player Alex Hales has been named in Azeem Rafiq's evidence.
Former England player Alex Hales has been named in Azeem Rafiq's evidence.

Mr Rafiq also claimed Mr Ballance’s derogatory use of the term ‘Kevin’ as a blanket term for all people of colour was “an open secret in the England dressing room”. He further alleged that Mr Hales had named his dog Kevin because it was black.

Mr Ballance has previously admitted using a “racial slur” against Mr Rafiq, but said it was in the context of friendship. However, Mr Rafiq said Mr Ballance would “constantly talk down to me and make racist jokes designed to undermine me and make me feel small”. Examples involved references to corner shops, Sheikhs and being related to other Asian men.

Following his testimony, MPs published Mr Rafiq’s witness statement to an employment tribunal – a matter that was settled last week with a reported six-figure payment from the club.

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It details allegations of racist behaviour by Mr Hoggard, as well as Mr Bresnan and Mr Gale, who are brothers-in-law.

Mr Hoggard, who played 93 times for England, stands accused of calling Rafiq ‘Raffa the Kaffir’ as well as using slurs such as ‘P***’ and ‘elephant washer’.

Mr Rafiq wrote Mr Hoggard would use such terms “on a daily basis, and all day, every day”. During the Parliamentary hearing, Mr Rafiq credited Mr Hoggard with recently reaching out to apologise.

Mr Rafiq wrote of Mr Bresnan and Mr Gale: “They were a double act - Tim would tag along and join in with Andrew’s racist comments and they bounced off each other in terms of the bullying.”

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Mr Rafiq said he felt “a sort of protection” when Jason Gillespie coached the team but that the racist comments resumed when he left.

“I enjoyed playing cricket with him because I felt encouraged, challenged and supported,” Rafiq said. “I also felt a sort of protection when he was there: he was part indigenous Australian, and I think because of that or perhaps because they knew he would call it out, the others didn’t make racist comments towards me in front of him.

“But after he left, from 2017 onwards, when Andrew Gale, Tim Bresnan and Gary Ballance either coached and/or captained the team, I became the constant target of their racist comments and alleged banter and bullying culture.

“It affected my mental health, my ability to get out of bed in the morning and face the world, my sense of self-worth, and later my performance – and led to further suicidal thoughts.”

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In a statement last night, Mr Bresnan said the accusation he had frequently made racist comments was "absolutely not true".

He said: "For any part I played in contributing to Azeem Rafiq feeling bullied at Yorkshire, I apologise unreservedly."

Mr Rafiq said he had been “staggered” when Yorkshire announced no one would face disciplinary action over his experience at the club.

“I thought, ‘at what point are these people going to read the room and realise what they’re doing?’. While the investigation was live and they were aware of the allegations against Gary, he was made captain and given a three-year contract.

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“(Former chairman) Roger Hutton had gone to members’ forums and said to people this didn’t involve anyone at the club. I think even as close as two weeks ago they genuinely felt they could hide this.

“I think they have been left with no option. I don’t think (former chief executive) Mark (Arthur) thinks he’s done anything wrong. I don’t think (director of cricket) Martyn (Moxon) feels he’s in the wrong. Michael (Vaughan) seems to have taken the same stance as the club – deny, deny, deny.”

Meanwhile, Mr Rafiq admitted he found it “hurtful” that England captain Joe Root said last week that he had never witnessed anything of a racist nature at Yorkshire.

“Rooty is a good man. He never engaged in racist language. I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary’s housemate and had been involved in a lot of the socialising where I was called a ‘P***’. It shows how normal it was that even a good man like him doesn’t see it for what it was.”

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During the hearing, Select committee member John Nicolson asked if anyone had stood up for Mr Rafiq at the time the bullying and racist abuse was taking place. He replied: “Nobody. That’s the institution.

“You had people who were openly racist and you had the bystanders. A lot of people watched it happen and no one felt like it was important or because it was such a norm that no one felt strong enough to actually stand up.”

Yorkshire respond after hearing

New Yorkshire chairman Lord Patel said there was "no quick fix" to the problems at the club.

“This is an incredibly difficult day for all associated with Yorkshire County Cricket Club," he said.

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“The emotion of Azeem Rafiq’s compelling testimony at the Select Committee today was plain to see, and his experiences are harrowing and upsetting.

“Azeem’s courage in speaking up should be praised, and nobody should underestimate how difficult it would have been to relive all of this in public. His wish to bring a ‘voice to the voiceless’ should be an inspiration to provoke real change in the sport.

“I repeat our apology to Azeem for what he has gone through, it should never have happened and that is something that the Club has to recognise.

“It is becoming ever clearer since I joined this Club that what happened with the investigation into Azeem’s allegations was fundamentally flawed and unacceptable. The processes and subsequent actions taken by the Club have rightly been criticised.

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“There is no quick fix to the clear problems which have been identified, and the issues are complex, not least the charge of institutional racism which must be addressed head on. Azeem noted that this is not about individuals, but rather the structure and processes of the Club, and we need to tackle this. It is clear that we have good people at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and that gives me hope that we can. I am struck by the concept of ‘White Rose’ values and what that means: I want to say firmly that our values at this Club cannot be in any way rooted in racism, discrimination or abuse of any kind.

“I agree with Azeem that we are only at the start of a journey, which will take time. We need to own the issues collectively as a Club, and cannot hide from what has been spotlighted.

“In his testimony, Azeem said that, despite the treatment he received, ‘Yorkshire is still my club’. I want to make this Cricket Club a source of pride once again, righting the wrongs of the past and making sure that we are an inclusive home for aspiring players of the future.”

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