Why Yorkshire CCC is facing gravest crisis in its 158-year history over Azeem Rafiq affair – Chris Waters

ENOUGH is enough, to coin a phrase.

Emerald Headingley. Picture by Ash Allen/SWpix.com
Emerald Headingley. Picture by Ash Allen/SWpix.com

Yorkshire County Cricket Club is in the midst of the gravest crisis in its 158-year history and seems palpably incapable of dealing with it properly.

The Azeem Rafiq situation, overseen by club chairman Roger Hutton, is a disaster.

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Hutton must belatedly get a grip – or stand aside.

Azeem Rafiq, pictured playing for Yorkshire n September 2017 Picture: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

How can it be right that Hutton – the man who has led the club’s response because other board members were embroiled in the affair – has not given a single interview on the subject since Rafiq raised his allegations of racism in August last year?

Instead, he – ergo the club – has hidden behind a series of bland, reactive, mostly ill-judged statements, with Yorkshire’s PR team powerless to act or influence the response.

It’s an insult – both to Yorkshire’s loyal members, whose generosity has helped to keep the club going during the pandemic through the selfless donation of membership fees, and to the game in general and the severity of the issue.

Those members deserve to know everything that can legally be disclosed immediately and have done from the start – nothing else will suffice; otherwise, they would be perfectly entitled to rise up to force an extraordinary general meeting.

In the midst of surely the most ill-fated chairmanship in county cricket history, coinciding not only with this shambolic episode but also a once-in-a-century pandemic since his appointment in March last year, Hutton was first of all slow to react following the initial allegations and then convened an independent investigation overseen by a firm for which he previously worked – Squire Patton Boggs.

Surely anyone with a remote grasp of how that might look would have spotted the potential difficulties protruding from that course of action, but no.

Instead, naivety and/or complacency reigned and the investigation, no matter how independent it actually was (and what reason is there to think that the report’s compilers, a leading specialist employment barrister by the name of Rehana Azib and the former personnel director of Waitrose, Helen Hyde, part of a five-strong panel, did not act with the utmost probity?) appeared compromised from the start.

The investigation has been criticised by Rafiq, and there has been an apparent failure to interview key figures on all sides.

Now – surprise, surprise – we are to have another investigation (who saw that coming?), this time conducted by the England and Wales Cricket Board, which must surely feel obliged to throw the book at Yorkshire before it has even started, especially with parliamentary pressure breathing down its neck, because the first investigation, which took over a year to finish, has solved nothing, satisfying neither party as it turned out.

Certainly not Rafiq, who had 36 of his 43 allegations either rejected or not upheld on the grounds of insufficient evidence, including the absolutely central ones that his release from the club in 2018 was motivated by racial as opposed to cricketing reasons and that Yorkshire CCC is institutionally racist.

Nor indeed Yorkshire, some of whose board/staff disagree with some of the very things for which Hutton has apologised in official club statements.

Oh yes, it really is that bad.

In short, and not for the first time in the long and labyrinthine history of this extraordinary club, senior figures are at loggerheads with how Yorkshire should proceed and have proceeded from the start.

Some board members – actually those implicated – wanted Yorkshire to be up front from the beginning, to place their cards on the table, effectively to make public counter-evidence provided to the investigation team.

Good. Let’s see that evidence. Let’s hear it.

It’s not too late.

Call a press conference right away.

Then everyone can make up their own minds.

But those figures were overruled in favour of what might be termed a tip-toeing strategy, all the time with one eye on the ongoing employment tribunal case brought by Rafiq that is running parallel to this, as though the immense reputational damage that the club has suffered – is suffering – is immaterial.

Yorkshire, who have already spent a significant six-figure sum fighting the allegations, have taken an absolute pasting in the national press to the extent that it’s hard to believe that any county cricket club has ever been more heavily criticised for its handling of a situation.

One can only imagine what some of the club’s sponsors, potential sponsors and indeed the Colin Graves family trusts, which still support Yorkshire financially, think about things.

They can hardly be doing dances of delight on Kirkstall Lane.

And one thing’s for sure: although I respectfully disagree with Graves on issues such as the introduction of The Hundred, this situation would surely not have unfolded as it has on the watch of the former Yorkshire supremo and ECB chairman.

Granted, it might have veered towards the opposite end of the spectrum, with all guns blazing and with bulls running around in china shops, but it would have been dealt with head-on and without any hint of obfuscation. In short, Graves would have sorted it one way or another – and fronted up properly.

Look, there is mitigation.

In fairness to Hutton, this has been a transparently difficult situation from day one.

We live in an age in which extreme caution naturally follows any allegations of racism, an age that is thankfully awakening more and more to the evils of it and the curse that it has been to our species since the dawn of time.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particularly complex and sensitive affair, which has shaken Yorkshire cricket to its very roots, anyone would be challenged if a crisis like this landed on their doorstep – particularly someone with a full-time job, who has thus been unable to devote himself completely to it: another big problem.

But having embarked on the wrong course of action from the start, Yorkshire are in the most appalling mess and, in this judgement, the only right and proper thing to do – both for themselves and for Rafiq – is to do what they should have done at the very beginning: be absolutely honest, get everything out into the open and let people decide for themselves.

For this has gone on for far too long.

Enough is enough.