Yorkshire suspended from hosting matches over handling of racism allegations by Pakistan-born player
England's Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) have been suspended from hosting international or major matches over their handling of allegations of racism by Pakistan-born former player Azeem Rafiq, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said on Thursday.
“It is clear ... that YCCC's handling of the issues raised by Azeem Rafiq is wholly unacceptable and is causing serious damage to the reputation of the game,” the ECB said in a statement.
“The ECB find this matter abhorrent and against the spirit of cricket and its values.”
Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance, who said on Wednesday that he had used racist language towards his former teammate Rafiq, has also been indefinitely suspended from England selection.
“Before any regulatory investigation is complete, the Board wishes to take immediate action in relation to Gary Ballance,” the ECB said.
“While Ballance has not been selected to play for England since 2017, he will be suspended indefinitely from selection. This position will be reviewed following the ECB regulatory investigation into his conduct.”
The ECB added that it had agreed to hold Yorkshire to account over their handling of the matter and to consider sanctions including, but not limited to financial and future match allocations at the end of its investigation.
“In the meantime, YCCC are suspended 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,” the ECB said.
The club's Headingley stadium is used regularly for England's test and limited overs matches and is due to stage a Test between England and New Zealand in June 2022, as well as a One-Day International featuring South Africa in July.
Several sponsors have ended their partnerships with Yorkshire following an independent report into allegations of racism made by Rafiq.
Earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stepped up the pressure on the ECB on the matter as his spokesperson told reporters: “The PM's clear that racist language should never be used in any context whatsoever. These are serious allegations. They must be investigated thoroughly and quickly. We urge the ECB to look at this carefully."
Rafiq, Yorkshire's chairperson and the county's chief executive and director of cricket have all been summoned to testify before a parliamentary committee on November 16.
Rafiq urges 'cultural change'
Meanwhile, Rafiq has demanded sweeping changes at his former English county club and across the sport and has revealed he is still suffering abuse amid a deepening racism row.
Yorkshire offered the 30-year-old off-spinner “profound and unreserved apologies" in a report on his allegations of racial abuse in September.
But last week, the county said it would take no disciplinary action against any staff, unleashing a wave of criticism and prompting sponsors to withdraw their support.
Rafiq said the row was about “institutional racism and abject failures by numerous leaders at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and in the wider game".
“The sport I love and my club desperately need reform and cultural change,” he posted on Twitter.
“The system and environment changes that will organically educate and bring through a new generation that make this the beautiful game it should be,” he added.
Gary Ballance's admission
Former England international Gary Ballance on Wednesday admitted using a racial slur against Rafiq during their time together at Yorkshire, saying in a statement: “I regret that I used this word in immature exchanges in my younger years."
“I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate,” Ballance said, adding that “at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress”. He said that if he had realised, “then I would have stopped immediately”.
However, Rafiq on Thursday said that despite the condemnation of his treatment at Yorkshire, criticism is still coming his way.
“We wonder why people don't come forward. Even after everything that is out there, there seem to be personal attacks coming. What a sad state of affairs,” he said.
Ballance's admission came after publishing company Emerald ended their association with Yorkshire and their Headingley ground in Leeds over the handling of the report that found Rafiq suffered “racial harassment and bullying” at the club, with other club sponsors following suit.
Rafiq, who represented Yorkshire in two spells between 2008 and 2018, made 43 allegations and said he had been driven to suicidal thoughts by his treatment at the club.
Yorkshire's redacted report upheld seven of his claims but concluded the club was not institutionally racist.