Azeem Rafiq: English cricket in the throes of racism, cricketer says as MPs recount ‘inhuman’ treatment in Yorkshire

Yorkshire whistleblower Azeem Rafiq on Tuesday delivered to MPs a moving and explosive account of his heart-wrenching experience with racism in cricket, with a series of new and shocking allegations that implicate a handful of former England players from foreground.

In a long appearance before the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, he offered a damning and damaging account of his life in English football before the release of a written statement made it worse still things.

During what could be a pivotal day for the sport, former internationals Matthew Hoggard, Tim Bresnan, Alex Hales and Gary Ballance had all faced new allegations of racial discrimination which paint a searing picture of the dream career. by Rafiq. turned into a battle with depression.

In his witness statement issued by a now settled employment tribunal with Yorkshire, Rafiq said Bresnan’s treatment of him led to « suicidal thoughts » in 2017, with a subsequent apology from Bresnan described by Rafiq as « Empty words ».

Elsewhere, he reiterated an existing allegation against former England captain Michael Vaughan and also aired a long list of complaints against Yorkshire cricket manager Martyn Moxon and head coach Andrew Gale. Neither are currently active in their posts, with Moxon being cut off due to a stress-related illness and Gale suspended pending an investigation into an offensive historic tweet.

Rafiq’s attempts to raise allegations internally in the county fell on deaf ears more than three years ago, but an independent panel was ultimately commissioned in 2020 following a series of media interviews. His report was heavily criticized by those who saw it – DCMS committee chairman Julian Knight calling it a ‘Venn diagram of stupidity’ – and led to Yorkshire’s controversial conclusion that no member of the personnel should not be disciplined.

Rafiq has said he wants to become ‘the voice of the voiceless’ as he reflects on the wider cricket issues around the breed, making it clear he feels the gaps are going all the way to the top.

In addition to going into the disturbing details of his time at Headingley, the 30-year-old claimed that Ballance’s derogatory use of the term « Kevin » as an umbrella term for all people of color was « an open secret in the English cloakroom “. He further alleged that another former England hitter, Alex Hales, named his dog Kevin because he was black.

Ballance has previously admitted to using a « racial insult » against Rafiq during a deep friendship, but the latter has dismissed the claim. Instead, he says Ballance coined the unwanted and offensive nickname « Raffa the Kaffir » and « would constantly talk down on me and make racist jokes, designed to undermine me and make me feel small. » Examples involved references to local shops, sheikhs, and connections with other Asian men.

Ballance is accused of repeatedly calling Rafiq ‘P ***’, an allegation which is also brought individually to Hoggard, Bresnan and Gale.

Hoggard is also said to have used the phrase « elephant washer », subjecting Rafiq to such abuse « on a daily basis … all day, every day » and forcing players of Asian descent to sit together in the locker room. During his oral testimony, Rafiq credited Hoggard with reaching out to apologize.

No such mitigation was offered for Bresnan, of whom Rafiq wrote: “Tim frequently made racist comments and was excessively harsh on me on white British players, which became so unbearable that I filed a complaint. formal complaint against him in 2017. « 

Bresnan then apologized wholeheartedly for « any role I played in contributing to Azeem Rafiq’s bullying experience, » but stressed that the charge that he frequently made racist comments was  » absolutely false ”.

Gale is also said to have used a variety of racial slurs as well as his managerial positions to subject Rafiq to « discriminatory treatment and bullying » that has hampered his career.

The majority of Rafiq’s claims focus on his two stints as a Yorkshire player between 2008 and 2018, with the notable exception of Jason Gillespie’s reign as head coach and a month-long loan to Derbyshire, but a graphic episode from his youth has also been described.

Rafiq has revealed that as a 15-year-old aspiring club cricketer he was held in a car and force-fed by a former Yorkshire and Hampshire player. As a Muslim this violated his religious beliefs, although he later admitted he had taken to drinking in Yorkshire.

“I got stuck in my local cricket club and red wine was poured down my throat, literally down my throat,” he said.

“I didn’t (then) touch alcohol until about 2012 and around that time I felt I had to do it to fit in. I wasn’t perfect, there are things I did that I felt I needed to do to make my dreams come true. I deeply regret it, but it has nothing to do with racism. The game as a whole has a problem, with listening to the victim. There is no “yeah, but” with racism; there are no “two sides” to racism. « 

When asked if he could identify a single person who had defended him or denounced acts of racism at the time, he could not name a name, adding: “You had people who were openly racist and you had passers-by. No one thought it was important.

Developing Ballance’s use of the word ‘Kevin’, Rafiq explained, “Kevin was something Gary used to describe any person of color in a very derogatory way. It was an open secret in the English locker room.

“Anyone who met Gary would know that was a phrase he would use to describe people of color. Gary and Alex Hales became very close to each other when they played for England together. I was not present in this lodge, but what I understand (is) that Alex continued to name his dog ‘Kevin’ because he was black. It’s disgusting how much of a joke that was.

Regarding England captain Joe Root’s recent claim that he could not recall any instance of racism in Yorkshire, Rafiq struggled to reconcile his positive view of the individual with the culture that existed during their time together in the Yorkshire.

“Rooty is a good man. He never engaged in racist language, ”he said.

« I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary’s roommate and had been involved in a lot of socializing where I was called ‘P ***’. It just goes to show how normal it was that even a good man like him didn’t see him for what he was. It won’t affect Joe, but it’s something I remember every day.

Former England coach and veteran commentator David Lloyd has apologized on Twitter after Rafiq said he had exchanged derogatory messages about him in private. Lloyd, whose Sky employers said they were investigating the comments, wrote: “I deeply regret my actions and very sincerely apologize to Azeem and the Asian cricket community for doing this and for all offense caused. « 

The England and Wales Cricket Council has appointed an Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC), chaired by Cindy Butts, to look into the issue of race in the game.

His call for evidence is now open, but Rafiq was skeptical of this process, saying: “Action is needed and needed now. To be honest, we’ve had enough of these fairness commissions and inquiries. Sick and tired.

“All we ask is equality, to be treated fairly regardless of what color our skin is or what religion we follow. It’s 2021, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation. No one has ever been a whistleblower before, no one has ever had the courage to come forward for fear of not being believed. Am I to believe that I lost my career because of racism? Yes.

“Maybe what was written for me was this. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. Hopefully in five years we’re going to see a big change, that I’ve done something far bigger than any leads or wickets I’ve had.

The PA news agency attempted to contact those involved for comment. Michael Vaughan released a statement on Monday categorically denying accusations that he told four Asian teammates « there are too many of you, we have to do something about this ».


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