Yorkshire CCC launch racism investigation over Azeem Rafiq claims

YORKSHIRE are launching an investigation into devastating claims by their former off-spin bowler Azeem Rafiq that he suffered racism at the club which drove him to the brink of suicide.

Former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

The club is promising a thorough and impartial inquiry – along with a wider review of its policies and culture – after Rafiq claimed that Yorkshire CCC is institutionally racist and that those responsible for his torment are still at Headingley.

Rafiq, who left Yorkshire two years ago, said that his allegations were ignored and that he has spoken out to help others who might be suffering.

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Roger Hutton, the new Yorkshire chairman, described the allegations as “hugely concerning” and acknowledged that Yorkshire “must do better to fully promote a culture of zero tolerance to racism or any form of prejudice”.

In a statement, Hutton said: “Any allegation of this nature is hugely concerning to everyone from the board to the playing staff here, and we take the reports very seriously.

“On Monday this week the club took the decision to launch a formal investigation into the specific allegations made by Azeem Rafiq, and a wider review of YCCC’s policies and culture.

“We are in the process of finalising the structure of this investigation and we will be approaching impartial external parties to be part of the review to ensure complete transparency. Further announcements will be made to detail this process in the coming days.

“We fully acknowledge that, just as in many walks of life, sport, including cricket and Yorkshire as a club, must do better to fully promote a culture of zero tolerance to racism or any form of prejudice. We accepted a long time ago that change was needed at Headingley to improve diversity, especially in terms of racial inclusivity.

“Since 2014 we’ve prioritised community engagement with numerous groups right across the county, and across many cultures and ethnicities. While as an organisation we’ve made real efforts to that end, we are not perfect and it’s a work in progress.”

Hutton went on: “As a player and former captain, Azeem was extremely highly respected and well regarded by the club and its supporters alike.

“Azeem was a gifted bowler and a respected leader of our team, and that was why he became the first British South Asian captain of the Yorkshire T20 side, and the youngest ever captain of the team.

“We have tried to make contact with Azeem this week to discuss his experiences, and will make further contact in the weeks ahead as it’s important that we hear his grievances in as much detail as possible.

“The future direction of our organisation’s culture will be best-shaped with the understanding and the input of players, staff and supporters from all minorities and genders, and we will continue this process with the formal investigation that will start in a matter of days and be conducted thoroughly, impartially, and with urgency.”

Yorkshire’s statement came after Rafiq, 29, made his allegations in an interview with ESPNcricinfo. The former England U19 captain, who now works in catering, called on the authorities to “wake up” before someone is “tipped over the edge”, referencing his own suicial thoughts.

“I know how close I was to committing suicide during my time at Yorkshire,” said Rafiq. “I was living my family’s dream as a professional cricketer, but inside I was dying. I was dreading going to work. I was in pain every day.

“There were times I did things to try and fit in that, as a Muslim, I now look back on and regret. I’m not proud of it at all. But as soon as I stopped trying to fit in, I was an outsider. Do I think there is institutional racism? It’s at its peak in my opinion. It’s worse than it’s ever been.”

Rafiq’s claims follow those of the former England batsman Michael Carberry, who said recently that “cricket is rife with racism”. Rafiq alleged several examples of it during his time at Yorkshire, from his team-mates laughing when a grandfather of one of the Yorkshire players shouted comments in the crowd about “Paki” players during a game at Scarborough, to when a Muslim boy had a pint of beer thrown over his face in the crowd, which he said elicited a similar response.

Rafiq claimed that he played under a captain who was “openly racist”, and he has also spoken of an incident in his early days at Yorkshire, for whom he made his debut in 2008.

“There was me, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. We’re walking onto the field and one player said, ‘There’s too many of you lot. We need to have a word about that.’”

Rafiq continued: “Yorkshire don’t want to listen and they don’t want to change. And part of the reason for that is the people who were involved in the incidents I’m talking about are still at the club.”

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James Mitchinson