Azeem Rafiq scandal: Yorkshire CCC engulfed in a row worse than the civil war of the 1970s

ON Fireworks Night burned the biggest bonfire in the flame-filled history of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

A sign outside Yorkshire County Cricket Club's Headingley Stadium in Leeds. (Picture: PA)

At the end of a dramatic and damaging day, as the Azeem Rafiq racism case reached melting point, the state of Yorkshire cricket looked not dissimilar, perhaps, to how Parliament might have looked had Guy Fawkes succeeded with his efforts in 1605.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November.

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Yorkshire CCC shames this county as Azeem Rafiq racism scandal deepens – The Yor...
Azeem Rafiq during his Yorkshire days (Picture: SWPix.com)

No one in these parts will forget it in a hurry.

Forget the famous Yorkshire CCC civil war of the 1970s and 1980s, when Geoffrey Boycott was at the epicentre of the earthquake.

This present crisis makes that one look like a trivial argument about the provision of soap in the Headingley toilets.

Will there be any toilets left at Headingley at this rate – or, indeed, anything else for that matter?

A general view (GV) of Yorkshire ground staff mopping up rain and taking the covers off during the match against Lancashire. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Only one thing’s for certain – the toilets are not likely to be sponsored.

Amid incalcuable commercial and reputational harm, damage that could well take years to mend, sponsors have fled so fast that one has barely been able to keep up with the stampede.

To do so, one would perhaps need a pair of running shoes manufactured by Nike, the kit supplier who withdrew on Thursday. Yorkshire are just too toxic at present, the equivalent of Guy Fawkes’s high explosive.

It said everything, indeed, when Leeds Beckett University, in announcing that it is pausing all planned activity with the club, issued a statement that said: “Although the issue is complex and we are not in possession of all the details, Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s public statements to date suggest that its approach to the handling of these accusations is inconsistent with our values and culture.” It has been a common theme.

Azeem Rafiq. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Because the issue is indeed complex and we are not in possession of all the details – no one, unless we were direct witnesses and/or have read the full report, an almost mystical document that so few have seen – there remains a clear distinction that needs to be emphasised.

There are two separate issues here: Yorkshire’s handling of the case – so blundering and inept that it makes Inspector Clouseau look like Inspector Morse – and then the truth or otherwise of Rafiq’s allegations. The latter is clearly the most important thing.

On a day when three people resigned from the Yorkshire board, chairman Roger Hutton, plus non-executive directors Hanif Malik and Stephen Willis, the primary emotion, perhaps, was simply one of sadness, closely followed by ongoing bemusement as to how things could possibly have got to this stage.

Why haven’t Yorkshire handled things better? Why weren’t Rafiq’s allegations dealt with better at the time? Why did Yorkshire put out an absurd statement last week saying that they were “pleased” with the actions they had taken since receiving the report, which included an internal investigation led by Hutton which had “come to the conclusion that there is no conduct or action taken by any of its employees, players or executives that warrants disciplinary action”?

Yorkshire have obviously got the report and read it, so they must have known that the five-strong independent panel – which consisted of three BAME representatives – dismissed within it the word “P**i” as “banter”.

Four days later, outcry ensued when ESPNCricinfo reported the fact – even if Gary Ballance, the Yorkshire batsman who uttered the word, later offered the context of saying that Rafiq was his best friend and that they would trade “friendly” insults on nights out drinking, which the panel believed but did not condone.

Ultimately, the focus must move swiftly now from Yorkshire’s handling of the affair and back to the key business at hand – the essential details of Rafiq’s allegations.

Now it will be down to the England and Wales Cricket Board, which is conducting its own inquiry, and parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee, which will hear from Rafiq and Yorkshire officials on November 16, to investigate further.

The mud-slinging, one suspects, has only just started.

Anyone who doubts that should consider the following: in the last few days, we have read of how Rafiq accused Ballance of racism and Ballance counter by saying that it was effectively six-of-one, half-a-dozen of the other and that the allegation was taken out of context.

We have read of how Rafiq accused former England captain Michael Vaughan of racism and Vaughan insist that he never made the remark “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” in front of Rafiq and fellow Asian team-mates in 2009. And, just as one of those players, Ajmal Shahzad, says that he has no memory of the incident, so another, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, says that he has.

Then, from within the club, staff blame Hutton for Yorkshire’s disastrous handling of the crisis, the long months of silence, the lack of transparency, while Hutton declared in his resignation statement that there was “a constant unwillingness” by executive board members and senior management to “accept that there was racism, and to look forward”. In other words, we have the sort of back-and-forth that could go on for weeks.

Will Rafiq ever get the justice he craves? And what about Yorkshire – already hung, drawn and quartered, like Guy Fawkes, in most people’s eyes? Will the club get justice if it deserves it too?

And how should historic racism be treated in this case? By punishing the Yorkshire of today – an organisation not yet proven to be institutionally racist – or by attributing it to the Yorkshire of the past, when many more would say that the club did have a problem? Some believe Yorkshire cricket, the wider umbrella of the leagues, has always been racist to some extent or other.

These are dark times, and the light of truth is urgently needed.

Perhaps, in a strange way, there is hope to be drawn from the demise of Guy Fawkes in that our actions, ultimately, tend to have consequences one way or another.