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Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s racism scandal is just the start of the sport’s reckoning

3 min read

On 1 November this year, a discussion broke out across the airwaves and social media: could the word “P***” ever be construed as “banter”? Obviously, most people agree that no, it could not.

This discussion came about because an internal report on racial discrimination within Yorkshire Cricket Club had apparently found otherwise. The report, in turn, was born of the legal and public efforts of a former player, Azeem Rafiq, to expose what had happened to him while playing there. He is soon to give testimony to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee.

It would be easy to focus on Yorkshire, the bumbling cricket club, who, while they were mishandling the Rafiq case, also persisted in having Darren Lehmann as the coach of their Hundred team. As a player, Lehmann was once suspended for calling the opposing Sri Lankan team “Black c**ts”.

I don’t want you to think this is just about players of Asian ethnicity and Yorkshire. Yes, four players have made complaints about racism at the club. But to think about this purely as a Yorkshire problem is underselling the issues within English cricket.

The English and Wales Cricket Board released a statement last year saying they “acknowledge that Black players and fans, who have contributed so much to the history of our game, now feel disenfranchised.”

Women, people belonging to ethnic minorities, the working class, have all been made to feel like outsiders

But English cricket was built to be exclusionary from the start. When someone says cricket is a gentleman’s game, they must remember that lower-class players were not called gentlemen; only the elites.

Former Yorkshire captain Michael Vaughan brought up the segregation of cricket when defending himself from claims – by Rafiq and former Pakistani player Rana Naved-ul-Hasan – of saying: “Too many of you lot, we need to do something about it.”

It seems in cricket, there has been constant othering. Women, people belonging to ethnic minorities, the working class, have all been made to feel like outsiders.

There are countless stories. New and old.

A cricket journalist saying England all-rounder Moeen Ali should work out if he is “one of them or one of us”. A senior cricket official realising he had mistaken two cricketers from ethnic minorities: “Oh, you are the other one.” The first English-born Black player Syd Lawrence having a banana skin placed outside his door. Devon Malcolm and Phillip DeFreitas suing the publishers of Wisden Cricket Monthly for questioning their patriotism. That’s just the overt stuff.

Usually, it comes through coded language. Black players are accused of being thin-skinned, lazy or stupid, and Asian players of having a bad attitude or being untrustworthy. Both groups get labelled as soft.

It’s notable how few ethnic minority players get senior positions within the game. While England has Tymal Mills, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Chris Jordan and Jofra Archer among first-choice players, the coaches in English cricket are overwhelmingly white. There are three ethnic minority coaches out of 27 across the County and Hundred competition – half the number of Australians.

And it’s not just leadership; it’s the culture that’s skewed. Teams still have kangaroo court systems where players get fined for sexual peccadilloes while on tour. Nights get rowdy. I probably don’t need to tell you this is not a normal working environment. For anyone.

Younger players can choose not to partake in drinking sessions, they can skip the late-night hotel bar bonding sessions – but then they are outsiders.

And that seems to be what cricket produces. You’re either one of the boys, or you’re not.

Rafiq’s treatment was far worse, both from people inside the club, and then from the club itself when he reported it. But the problem is that he’s not alone. He just spoke up.


Jarrod Kimber is a cricket writer and filmmaker.

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