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Azeem Rafiq Tells MPs His Treatment At Yorkshire Was “Inhuman” And Racism Is Institutional In Cricket

Azeem Rafiq Tells MPs His Treatment At Yorkshire Was “Inhuman” And Racism Is Institutional In Cricket

The former cricketer Azeem Rafiq gave evidence to the DCMS select committee this morning about racism in the sport (Parliamentlive.TV)

6 min read

The former cricketer Azeem Rafiq has told MPs his treatment by his club Yorkshire was “inhuman” during a parliamentary committee hearing on racism in the sport.

Giving evidence to MPs, he accused a number of former colleagues at the county cricket club of bullying and using racial slurs in a toxic changing room environment.

The spinner, who was born in Pakistan and moved to England as a child, said he first raised the issue in 2017 but was labelled a “problem, a troublemaker and an issue that needs to be resolved”.

Rafiq told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that being perceived by the club as a "troublemaker" affected how he was treated later that year when he and his wife faced a “really difficult pregnancy”.

“Through that time the treatment that I received from some of the club officials was inhuman,” he said.

“They were not really bothered about the fact that I was training one day and I get a phone call to say there's no heartbeat.”

Rafiq, who was the first player of Asian origin to lead the county, as well as the youngest captain in the club's history, said on his first day back after the loss of his son coach Martyn Moxon “literally got me in a room and ripped the shreds off me”.

"Hardly anyone asked, 'are you alright or is your wife alright’, it was more about, 'he raised bullying last year let's get rid of him’," he added.

"I carried my son from the hospital to the graveyard. The way I was treated was not right – there was a problem not just at Yorkshire but across the country.”

He begun the hearing by explaining what it was like joining Yorkshire as as young player: "I joined a dressing room full of my heroes, Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, part of the 2005 Ashes team. And it was just the most surreal moment for me.”

But he said he faced racial abuse soon after he started playing for the club that was overlooked by senior members of the organisation. 

"Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian background, there were comments such as, ‘you lot sit over there near the toilets', 'elephant washers'," Rafiq explained. 

“The word P*** was used constantly, and there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”

Deteriorating mental health led to him being prescribed medication, and he left Yorkshire for the first time in 2014.

Two years later he returned to the club, who were led by head coach Jason Gillespie, the former Australian bowler with whom he got on well.

But at the end of the 2016 season he left and was replaced by Andrew Gale, who made Gary Ballance captain.

Rafiq said at this point “it just felt the temperature in the room had been turned up”, and he felt “isolated, humiliated at times”.

He singled out Ballance as being especially aggressive during a 2017 pre-season tour.  

"We were in a place and Gary walks over and goes, 'why are you talking to him, you know he's a P***, he's not a sheikh he's not got oil’," Rafiq recalled. 

“This happened in front of team-mates. It happened in front of coaching staff.”

Ballance has recently admitted to using racist and offensive language towards Rafiq, but Yorkshire’s investigation panel had cleared him of wrongdoing, saying his use of the term was “in the spirit of friendly banter”.

In his evidence today Rafiq claimed Ballance called everyone of colour “Kevin”, including when he played for England, and it was an “open secret” in the national team dressing room.

He said Ballance became friends with fellow batsman Alex Hales, who Rafiq understood had named his dog Kevin, "because it was black".

“It's disgusting how much of a joke it was,” he added. 

Rafiq said since whistleblowing on racism at Yorkshire, he has been inundated with reports of the issue from across the game.

"I've had messages from people who have played at Leicestershire, a guy who played at Middlesex, messages from people who played at Nottinghamshire," he said.

"Maurice Chambers spoke out yesterday about Essex.

"Some people are still pretty scared to talk about it. Some still say 'is it racism, I don't know'. One reoccurrence is the word P*** was used a lot."

The now-retired player, who is a muslim, described being pinned down and forced to drink wine aged just 15, despite alcohol being prohibited by his religion. 

He said he didn't touch alcohol again until 2012, when he started again to try and “fit in” at Yorkshire.

"I wasn't perfect, there are things I did which I felt I had to do to achieve my dreams. I deeply regret that, but it has nothing to do with racism,” he said.

"When I spoke I should have been listened to," he continued. "The game as a whole has a problem, with listening to the victim. There is no 'yeah, but' with racism; there is no 'two sides' to racism.”

Rafiq also heavily criticised the English Cricket Board (ECB) and the Professional Cricket Association's (PCA) handling of his situation.

After his claims were first made in the media in September 2020, he received a call from ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, and felt like he was finally being listened to. 

"But then they took the stance that they would trust Yorkshire to do the right thing, and then as regulators would come in to hold Yorkshire to account," Rafiq told MPs. 

"It was difficult for me to take through the winter. I kept begging the ECB, the PCA, I kept telling them 'they are not doing the right thing, this is going to end up in a car crash for everyone’.”

He described "dark moments" over the winter when he continued to feel as though he was not being taken seriously. 

“On a human point I felt like if someone else had told me they were suicidal and they were ringing you saying 'please help' I'd forget my constitution and help a human," Rafiq continued. 

"I didn't feel like they did that because they were concerned for me or worried for me, I feel that was done to tick a box in case I killed myself."

He described the PCA as "incredibly inept" accused them of abandoning him when he needed support. 

Rafiq also said Yorkshire's investigation into his allegations had been "far from independent”, as while it was still live, members of the panel were entertained by the county at a Headingley Test match.

"It just shows the arrogance of these people," he said.

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