Yorkshire accept Azeem Rafiq was victim of racial harassment but report deems club is not institutionally racist

YORKSHIRE County Cricket Club has admitted that Azeem Rafiq was “the victim of racial harassment” and “bullying” after an independent investigation failed to uphold his central claim that the club is institutionally racist.

Yorkshire's Azeem Rafiq bats.

In announcing the findings of a year-long investigation into Rafiq’s allegations, which the former player claimed drove him to the brink of suicide, Roger Hutton, the Yorkshire chairman, apologised profusely.

“There is no question that Azeem Rafiq, during his first spell as a player at YCCC, was the victim of racial harassment,” he said.

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Azeem Rafiq: Full statement from Yorkshire CCC on Rafiq racism investigation
Azeem Rafiq lodged a formal complaint against Yorkshire CCC last summer (Picture: SWPix.com)

“He was also subsequently the victim of bullying.

“On behalf of all at YCCC, I wish to extend my sincere, profound and unreserved apologies to Azeem and to his family.”

Hutton said there were more than 40 allegations made against the club by Rafiq, seven of which were upheld.

“The majority were not upheld,” he added, “and some were not upheld on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence.”

Hutton said the investigation, conducted by the international law firm Squire Patton Boggs, determined that there was “insufficient evidence to conclude that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is institutionally racist”.

He said the investigation “did not find that any decisions by the coaching staff or the club, relating either to Azeem’s inclusion within a team or his ultimate release from the club, was for anything other than cricketing reasons”.

Hutton said the following allegations were upheld against the club:

When Azeem Rafiq was playing junior cricket for Yorkshire, he was not provided with halal food at matches. Yorkshire say that this situation has been rectified for current Asian cricketers.

Prior to 2010, the panel found that there were three separate incidents of racist language being used by former players which were found to be harassment on the grounds of race.

Before 2012, a former coach regularly used racist language.

During his second spell at Yorkshire, between 2016 and 2018, there were jokes made around religion which made individuals uncomfortable about their religious practices.

During his second spell at the club, a former player made references to Rafiq’s weight and fitness that amounted to bullying.

In August 2018, when Rafiq raised concerns of racism, there was a failure by the club to follow its own policy or investigate these allegations.

On a number of occasions prior to 2018, the club could have done more to make Muslims more welcome within their stadiums and should have dealt better with complaints of racist or anti-social behaviour within those stadiums.

Yorkshire said that it was not possible to publish the full report due to defamation and privacy law.

Hutton added that “it is a matter of sincere regret that the good work of so many people at the club, both with Azeem and in our efforts to build an inclusive and welcoming cricket club representing the best of all of Yorkshire, is at risk of being overshadowed by the behaviour and remarks of a few people”.

In a statement, a spokeperson for Rafiq said: “We note that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has confirmed Azeem was the victim of racism and bullying during his two spells at Headingley.

“However, we must highlight the atrocious way this process continues to be handled. Azeem was not given any notice of this morning’s statement – he received a copy only a couple of minutes before the media.

“Azeem and his team are not in a position to properly understand the club’s conclusions and how they reached them, because Yorkshire has not provided a copy of the report. This is clearly unacceptable and an abuse of process.

“What is clear is that Yorkshire County Cricket Club admits racism and bullying has taken place on many occasions, yet won’t accept the obvious – that this is an institutional problem.

“We also note that Baroness Morgan, the former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has written to Yorkshire County Cricket Club in recent days demanding that Azeem see a full copy of the report.

“We further note the letter to Yorkshire from Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, on Wednesday. We welcome their interventions.

“We will provide a fuller statement in the coming days.”

The investigation into Rafiq’s allegations was launched last September and chaired by Dr Samir Pathak, a consultant pancreatic surgeon at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds.

The panel conducted 29 interviews with 26 witnesses, received responses to written questionnaires and obtained further evidence from additional people via email.

Yorkshire admitted that “many individuals declined to participate in the investigation, and this impacted on its ability to make conclusive findings one way or another”.

The club conceded that “the process took longer than was hoped”, but that it was “more important to get it right than to do it quickly”.

Hutton said: “Looking to the future, the club will now enthusiastically implement the panel’s recommendations and will look to work with a broader group from diverse communities to further develop and improve our inclusivity, accessibility and sensitivity to the pulse of modern Britain.

“We also commit to giving regular updates on our plans and our progress. We should be judged on this over the coming months and will report on our progress at our Annual General Meeting in the spring.

“I am confident the responsible way that the report has been received by the whole club, together with the clear and collective determination to enthusiastically embrace its recommendations, is an important moment in our journey to become more thoughtful, more inclusive and to make sure that every aspect of the club fully lives up to the spirit of the great game of cricket.”