Yorkshire CCC: Azeem Rafiq claims on ‘treatment’ at Headingley denied

Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq. Picture: PAFormer Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq. Picture: PA
Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq. Picture: PA
YORKSHIRE’s former sports psychologist has rubbished claims by Azeem Rafiq that the treatment that players received was based on the colour of their skin and believes that Rafiq deliberately set out to “destroy the club or certainly wreck it” with his allegations of racism.

Dr Mark Nesti, who has worked with several leading football clubs including Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton, said that claims by Rafiq that mental health provision and duty of care at Yorkshire were based on race were “laughable”.

A former associate professor in sports psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, and the author of six books, Dr Nesti said that Rafiq had “the most support of any player at Yorkshire during my time there”, both from himself and Dr Nigel Mayers, the club’s former medical officer, in addition to the support he received from other backroom staff.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dr Nesti and Dr Mayers were among the 14 signatories of a letter to the previous board which accused Rafiq of being on “a one-man mission to bring down the club”, a letter which stated that the initial apology to Rafiq and the acceptance that he was “a victim” was a mistake which “misrepresented entirely what kind of individual he was”.

All 14 signatories, whether directly employed by Yorkshire or subcontracted to them, were summarily sacked last December by incoming chairman Lord Kamlesh Patel, allegedly without any attempt to find out whether they had done anything wrong or whether their grievances were justified.

Dr Nesti, who joined Yorkshire in 2015, described that cull as “one of the major injustices” of the crisis and said “that’s not how any employer should treat their staff, particularly incredibly loyal and competent staff such as Martyn Moxon and Wayne Morton”.

The club’s medical and sports science staff were particularly incensed by comments from Rafiq at the height of the storm which suggested that white players’ mental health and well-being were prioritised.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Duty of care & mental health depends on colour of your skin clearly,” tweeted Rafiq after Yorkshire issued an update on the independent investigation into his allegations, a claim he broadened to cricket more generally in an interview with the Mail on Sunday. Referring in that article to Yorkshire and the loss of his still-born son in 2018, a few months before he was released by the club, Rafiq added: “I’ve seen other players get supported through things that have been of their own doing a lot more than I got supported.”

Dr Nesti, the third letter signatory to speak publicly after Andrew Gale, the former head coach, and Kunwar Bansil, the former lead physiotherapist, who said that he was “never aware of any racism” at Yorkshire as a British Asian, refuted Rafiq’s claims.

Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post, Dr Nesti said: “No player, irrespective of their colour, experience or status in the team was treated any differently at Yorkshire.

“In my case, every professional player was offered – and most took it up – three sessions over the course of a year and then there were follow-on sessions which were very much dependent on player-needs.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We also had a referral system in place if players had issues more of a clinical nature which potentially needed support from a psychiatrist or from a clinical psychologist.

“I’m 62 now – I’ve been in this a long time – and I can genuinely say that Yorkshire had the best psychological and well-being provision that I’ve seen in team sport, and I’ve been all over.

“Professionally, you’d be struck off if you treated people differently; in a sense, it’s laughable because the general public will know it’s impossible for it to be otherwise, and we all worked without favour with players who needed our support, regardless of colour.”

Dr Nesti, who was born in Scotland but grew up in Yorkshire, and who now works in a supervisory/mentoring capacity at Manchester United’s academy and at Aston Villa, sympathised with Rafiq in the sense that he was “struggling with his life, struggling with his career”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As revealed in The Yorkshire Post, the independent investigation into Rafiq’s claims by the law firm Squire Patton Boggs found that he did not lose his career to racism, something which neither the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport select committee chaired by Julian Knight MP nor Patel sought fit to disclose. Nor did they reveal that the investigation included allegations from Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance that Rafiq would make racially insensitive remarks to him such as “f*** off back to Zimbabwe”.

After nine months of pointedly refusing to apologise to Rafiq for his own well-documented comments, Ballance suddenly did so yesterday amid rumours that his hand had been forced; there was no apology from Rafiq in return.

“I stand by what we said in that letter,” said Dr Nesti, “in terms of our opinion that he deliberately tried to bring down the club. My take on it is this… no top athlete ever thinks they’re finished – otherwise they’re not a top athlete – and those moments are very difficult to face and so you start imagining that there’s other reasons for your performance, which is what I think was happening to him, and of course he was going through some difficult moments in his personal life.

“We’ve all got our interpretations as ex-staff members, but in my view he wanted to hit out and destroy the club or certainly wreck it if not completely destroy it.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Responding to Dr Nesti’s comments, a spokesperson for Rafiq said: “It has been proven over and over again that Azeem suffered racial harassment and bullying while at Yorkshire, which has been conceded by the club. Azeem’s bravery has resulted in wider exposure of racism in the sport.”

Dr Nesti believes the knock-on effects of the crisis are damaging for society in general.

“Ku (Bansil) said this – we’ve both said it to the ECB – that our major concern is that this deepens divisions,” he added. “There’s people who should have known better – solicitors, lawyers, politicians, you name it.

“Instead of a calm, measured approach, all we’ve seen is hysteria, and when you have hysteria you get irrational decisions that cause real problems.”

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.