Explained: The Yorkshire Racism Scandal That Has Engulfed English Cricket

Explained: The Yorkshire Racism Scandal That Has Engulfed English Cricket
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Yorkshire County Cricket Club is in the midst of a racism scandal that has seen its top officials resigning and sponsors deserting. The scandal has blown up recently but more than a year after its former player Azeem Rafiq levelled allegations that he was a victim of institutional racism during his two tenures with the club – between 2008-14 and 2016-18.

Offspinner Rafiq captained England’s U-15 and U-19 teams before making his debut for Yorkshire at the age of 17. His potential meant the England selectors handed him the U-19 World Cup captaincy as he led the likes of future superstars – Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes – at the marquee event.

Rafiq became the youngest ever player to captain Yorkshire in 2012 and the first ever of Asian origin to do so. Despite such a promising start, the budding allrounder’s association with the club ended in 2018.

It was during an interview in 2020 with a leading publication that Rafiq claimed of deep-rooted racism in the club and later revealed  the events led him to contemplate suicide. The club launched an investigation appointing a panel and earlier this year apologised to Rafiq but denied there was institutional racism and claimed the player was instead “victim of inappropriate behaviour”.

Just seven of the 43 allegations made by the cricketer were upheld and Rafiq vowed to continue his fight expressing his displeasure with the panel’s finding.

Yorkshire even refused to take any disciplinary action against any of its employees, players or executives following the report. But once the details of the findings were leaked, the club faced widespread backlash. England and Wales Cricket Board announced that the club has been suspended from hosting international matches for its handling of the racism case.

Michael Vaughan’s name has also surfaced in the scandal with Rafiq claiming the former England captain told four Asian players ahead of a T20 match that “there’s too many of you lot, we need to do something about it.” He continues to deny the allegations.

Another outcome of the entire episode was that more players began coming out with stories detailing their own experience with racism.

, Explained: The Yorkshire Racism Scandal That Has Engulfed English Cricket,
People take part in a protest outside Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s Headingley Stadium. (AP Photo)

Here’s a timeline of how the entire episode unfolded

August 2020: In an interview with Wisden,  Rafiq, for the first time on record, talks about racism. “I’ve been in dressing rooms where things have been said, and, really, I should have stopped it. I had a captain who was openly racist,” the said. Yorkshire refused to respond to the claims.

September 2020: Rafiq opens up further. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, he said, “I know how close I was to committing suicide during my time at Yorkshire. 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.”

Rafiq says institutional racism is “at its peak” and worse than it’s ever been.

September 2020: Independent law firm Squire Patton Boggs is hired as Yorkshire officially launches an investigation. The panel was led by Samir Pathak with two independent members. It is reported that the investigation will be over by Christmas 2020.

December 2020: Rafiq files legal complaint against Yorkshire for direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race. “Those who have, like me, been on the receiving end of racism and discrimination will understand how hard it is to open up about the pain and suffering it causes. I feel a sense of relief to finally speak about it and that my healing process can now begin. I hope this claim will give me the closure I need and that the recommendations from the tribunal will help bring about change for our future generations in cricket,” he said.

Yorkshire said the club is taking the allegations “extremely seriously”.

February 2021: Report delayed. No timeline of when the investigation will be completed. Rafiq’s lawyer Asma Iqbal claims that by delaying, Yorkshire risks “legitimising racism”.

Yorkshire spokesman responds, “We have always acknowledged that this has often been a difficult process for those involved and the investigation team were clear that witnesses be given the time and space to speak about their experiences fully and that they should not feel the pressure of a constrained time limit.”

June 2021: Yorkshire fail to reach resolution with Rafiq.  “Having tried to find a way to resolve the issues between the club and Azeem Rafiq through the process of judicial mediation, the club is sorry to say that resolution did not prove possible,” the county said in a statement.

August 2021: Yorkshire issues “profound apologies” to Rafiq saying several of his allegations have been upheld. In a statement, the club says the cricketer was “the victim of inappropriate behaviour” and refuses there racism allegations.

The club refrains from admitting that there was racist behaviour but said, “There were many allegations made against the club, most of which relate to a period more than 10 years ago. Many of the allegations were not upheld and for others there was insufficient evidence for the panel to make a determination. It is right, however, to acknowledge from the outset that several of the allegations made by Azeem were upheld and that sadly, historically, Azeem was the victim of inappropriate behaviour.”

Rafiq blasts the statement, claiming the club is playing “with words” and “fudging this best way possible.”

ECB commends Rafiq for “the bravery he has shown in speaking up and shining a light on the racism he said he experienced as a Yorkshire Cricketer.” The board says its awaiting a copy of the findings.

September 2021: British Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chair Julian Knight MP asks Yorkshire to publish the report.

A summarised version of the report is made public. The club admits Rafiq was victim of “racial harassment” and “bullying” during his tenures between 2008 and 2018. Just seven of his 43 allegations were upheld.

October 2021: Rafiq’s spokesperson claims Yorkshire is “protecting the players and a coach who they now acknowledge used either racist language or were bullying.”

Yorkshire also announce that there will be no disciplinary action against any individual since its own internal investigation found “no conduct or action taken by any of its employees, players or executives that warrants disciplinary action”.

Rafiq, who reportedly received a redacted version of report, responds on Twitter, saying “Wow just when you think this club couldn’t get more embarrassing you find a way” adding “Thanks for mentioning the people that have provided your PROTECTION & given green light to RACISM”.

ECB though says it has received a full report.

November 2021: The details of the report leaked. It reveals how a player repeatedly used the word “P***” while referring to Rafiq and claimed it was a ‘friendly banter”.

Gary Ballance admits he was the player who used the “racist slur” when he was teammates with Rafiq. The former England international claims he wasn’t aware at that time that his words were causing Rafiq distress.

Health secretary Sajid Javid says “heads should roll” at Yorkshire.

Heavy backlash follows.

November 3, 2021: Emerald Group Publishing, Yorkshire Tea and Anchor Butter all end their association with Yorkshire over the handling of Rafiq’s allegations.

November 4, 2021: ECB suspends Yorkshire from hosting international or major matches “until it has clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and first-class county”. Ballance suspended indefinitely from England selection.

November 5, 2021: Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton resigns as do board members Hanif Malik and Stephen Willis.

Former Pakistan international Rana Naved-ul-Hasan says he heard Vaughan making inappropriate comments to Asian players at Yorkshire, a claim he denies.

November 9, 2021: Yorkshire first-team coach Andrew Gale suspended “pending a disciplinary hearing following a historical tweet”.

November 11, 2021: Mark Arthur resigned as Yorkshire’s chief executive. England Test captain Joe Root releases a lengthy statement saying the episode has “fractured our game and torn lives apart”.

November 15, 2021: England spinner Adil Rashid backs Rafiq’s claim against Vaughan saying he “can confirm Azeem Rafiq’s recollection of Michael Vaughan’s comments to a group of us Asian players”.

November 16, 2021: Rashid to speak in parliament about his experiences.

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