Transparency required to give both Azeem Rafiq and Yorkshire CCC justice - Chris Waters

“INSTITUTIONAL RACISM (also known as systemic racism) is a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organisation.”

Azeem Rafiq has accused Yorkshire of being instituionally racist. (Picture: Richard Sellers/Getty Images)

That is the definition of the charge on which Yorkshire County Cricket Club stands accused by Azeem Rafiq, its former spin bowler, who alleges that he was driven to the brink of suicide by the racism he experienced when playing for the club that he left two years ago.

Those allegations – subject to a formal investigation – are by now well known, Rafiq having claimed that racist remarks were directed towards him by some of his own Yorkshire team-mates.

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He said that those remarks were sometimes disguised as “banter” and that Yorkshire did nothing, or little, to address his concerns, and that by telling his story he might help others who are suffering in a similar way.

Azeem Rafiq playing for Yorkshire (Picture: Getty Images)

Now I have no idea what went on behind the scenes, so I cannot comment on the specific allegations raised by Rafiq.

But I have read the interviews he has given and watched the footage of him talking to camera, looked into his eyes and listened to the palpably raw emotion in his voice.

And my own opinion, for what it is worth, is that he is either an exceptional storyteller or else there is self-evidently some substance to what he is saying.

It seems unlikely in the extreme that Rafiq is simply plucking his very specific and detailed allegations out of thin air (albeit he has named no names) and entirely reasonable to conclude that racism goes on in cricket (“banter” from bad apples or otherwise) as it does, regrettably, everywhere else, scarring society and its victims in terrible terms.

Azeem Rafiq of Yorkshire bowls during Day Two of the Specsavers County Championship Division One match between Yorkshire and Durham at Headingley on September 7, 2016 in Leeds, England. (Picture: Daniel Smith/Getty Images)

I may be wrong, but Rafiq looks and sounds to me like a man who has known it and it is up to the investigatory panel (reassuringly top-heavy with Asian representation) to get to the bottom of what is alleged.

Those points established, the question as to whether Yorkshire County Cricket Club is itself institutionally racist strikes me as being a different one entirely, and one that would be difficult for an investigation to prove.

I have personally seen no evidence of racism during 16 years of covering the club and would not hesitate to call it out if I had; on the contrary, I have always found Yorkshire CCC to be a model in this regard: a club that has made genuine efforts to engage with the BAME community.

Of course, plenty of work still needs to be done, as club chairman Roger Hutton acknowledged when the club initially responded to Rafiq’s allegations.

But if Yorkshire CCC is institutionally racist – defined as something that is embedded as normal practice within an organisation – then it would appear to go against much of the available evidence.

First, there is the appearance of players in the first XI such as Rafiq himself, with Yorkshire having fielded numerous BAME cricketers in recent times: in no particular order, and just off the top of my head, Adil Rashid, Moin Ashraf, Ajmal Shahzad, Ismail Dawood, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Imran Tahir, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Gurman Randhawa, Yuvraj Singh, Ajaz Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Keshav Maharaj, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Tino Best, Kraigg Brathwaite, Nicholas Pooran and, of course, back in the day, Sachin Tendulkar, their first overseas player.

Would an institutionally racist organisation select so many BAME players, hand them the T20 captaincy in Rafiq’s case and have an intrinsically discriminatory attitude towards them?

Would an institutionally racist organisation employ BAME staff and have BAME representation on its own board? Would it have an equality and diversity committee? Would it have undertaken a South Asian engagement programme in communities such as Bradford, Leeds and Kirklees?

Would it have created the first multi-faith room in county cricket in partnership with Asian company Regal Food Products, a project that serves and supports all faiths? Would it host black minority ethnic forums under the umbrella of Yorkshire Cricket? Would it have been involved in the regeneration of Bradford Park Avenue, helping to support the South Asian community and using the game as a vehicle for social inclusion?

Would it have established close ties with Mount Cricket Club in Batley, the 2019 Asian Cricket Club of the Year, and described it as “one of the shining lights within the Yorkshire cricket family because of the way in which they reach out and serve their community”?

Would it have forged close links with ethnic communities through its foundation and cricket board?

There is some food for thought there, perhaps.

There are subplots to this story – the relationship between club and player broke down towards the end for various reasons – and it will be interesting to see what comes out.

A transparent and timely resolution is paramount.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson