Gary Ballance admits racial slur against Azeem Rafiq and apologises

GARY BALLANCE has apologised for using the racial slurs against Azeem Rafiq – “my closest friend and supporter in cricket” –that have plunged Yorkshire CCC into chaos and said that he is “saddened that it has come to this” given their previously “incredibly close relationship”.

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In a dramatic statement, the Yorkshire batsman and former England international, who had earlier in the day been outed as the senior player who had called Rafiq a “P**i” in the ongoing racism controversy, said that he “deeply regrets” the language used to his former best friend but insisted that they traded insults in a friendly fashion on nights out drinking.

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As sponsors scrambled to disassociate themselves with the club, including the Emerald Group, Tetley’s and Yorkshire Tea, and as politicians and public opinion turned against Yorkshire with furnace-like intensity, Ballance protested that everything had been taken out of context and criticised the “misleading and selective nature of the reporting”, with ESPNCricinfo having leaked findings of the independent investigation into Rafiq’s claims of racism against Ballance and Yorkshire.

Yorkshire's Garry Ballance and Azeem Rafiq celebrate a win together in their playing days.

Ballance, 31, one of the club’s most respected and popular players, said that he and Rafiq “remained closest friends throughout the time we exchanged these inappropriate comments” and rubbished reports that he had reduced his old friend to tears.

“I regret that these exchanges took place but at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress,” said Ballance, who recently signed a new three-year contract.

“If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately. He was my best mate in cricket and I cared deeply for him. To my knowledge, it has never been alleged that I reduced Rafa to tears.

“That does not mean that what passed between us was right or appropriate. It was not. Rafa said things to me that were not acceptable and I did the same with Rafa. I never said anything with any intended malice or to upset Rafa.”

Yorkshire's Azeem Rafiq (second left) is congratulated by Adam Lyth (L), Gary Ballance (R) and Tim Bresnan (second right) on the wicket of Derbyshire's Chesney Hughes back in 2016 (Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

In evidence that shines new light on the case, with the investigation having corroborated seven of Rafiq’s 43 allegations but not the central ones of institutional racism or that the club released him on racial grounds while a separate employment tribunal rumbles in the background, Ballance said that he had not intended to comment publicly but, given that journalists had turned up unannounced at his house, believed to be from the Daily Mail which publicly named him, felt that he had no choice but to set the record straight.

ESPNCricinfo had effectively named him anyway, referring to the fact that Rafiq had countered the slurs by calling the player “Zimbo from Zimbabwe” – Ballance is the only Zimbabwe-born player on Yorkshire’s staff.

The story followed a five-strong investigation team which included three BAME representatives concluding that the exchanges were cordial, and neither caused Rafiq offence at the time nor subsequently.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, earlier this week insisted that “heads should roll” at Yorkshire CCC. Julian Knight, chair of the parliamentary DCMS committee, said – before Yorkshire even go up in front of his committee to plead their case – “I struggle to think of any reason why the board should remain in post”.

Gary Ballance, second left, with Azeem Rafiq, right, and fellow team-mates at the Yorkshire AGM in 2017 (Picture: YPN)

Other sources told The Yorkshire Post yesterday that such exchanges between Ballance and Rafiq had also taken place in an atmosphere of close friends having a night out together.

Last night, Rafiq tweeted “Funny how things change from complete denial to I accepted everything over a 14 month period ??”

In his statement, Ballance said: “To be clear, I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years. The independent inquiry, having heard all of the evidence, accepted that the context of some of the language used was in a ‘friendly verbal attack’ between friends which was not intended to offend or hurt and that no malice was intended.

“Given my incredibly close relationship with Rafa over the years, I am saddened that it has come to this. Rafa and I started playing for Yorkshire at a similar time and we quickly developed a very close bond. He encouraged me to play club cricket for his club Barnsley CC, which I did, we went on many tours together, with both Yorkshire and the England Performance Programme, and we always supported each other on and off the pitch. We socialised a lot together away from the game and would also drink and enjoy ourselves together.”

Azeem Rafiq and Gary Ballance celebrated promotion together in 2012 (Picture: SWPix.com)

Ballance added: “Because we were such good friends and spent a lot of time together drinking and on nights out we both said things privately to each other which were not acceptable. It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent inquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so.

“I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate.”