Racism in English cricket is institutional, Pakistan-born cricketer tells British lawmakers

Published November 16, 2021
Former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq appears before MPs during a hearing on Tuesday. — Twitter/screengrab
Former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq appears before MPs during a hearing on Tuesday. — Twitter/screengrab

Former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq fought back tears as he told British lawmakers on Tuesday that racism within English cricket was institutional, recalling the “humiliating treatment” he received at the club.

An independent report found the Pakistan-born player was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” while Rafiq himself said he had been driven to thoughts of suicide over the way he was treated.

Although the English county apologised, they said they would take no disciplinary action against any staff — a decision that was met with disbelief in many quarters and prompted the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee to hold a hearing.

“I felt, isolated, humiliated at times,” Rafiq, who had two periods at the English county club, told lawmakers.

“Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian background... there were comments such as 'you'll sit over there near the toilets', 'elephant-washers'.

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

Rafiq added: “All I wanted to do is play cricket and play for England and live my dream and live my family's dream. In my first spell, I don't really think I quite realised what it was. I think I was in denial.”

Read more: Yorkshire admit Pakistan-origin cricketer was victim of racial harassment, bullying

Prior to Tuesday's hearing, the fallout for Yorkshire — one of England's most successful and historic clubs — had been swift and devastating.

Sponsors have pulled out and the club has been suspended from hosting lucrative international matches.

Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton and chief executive Mark Arthur have both resigned, with head coach Andrew Gale suspended for using a racial slur.

Subsequent allegations of racism have been made by other players, setting in motion additional investigations at Yorkshire and other clubs as the scandal spreads across English cricket.

'Pinned down'

Rafiq, who is a Muslim, also recalled on Tuesday a frightening experience of being forced to drink alcohol at the age of 15 as a club player in Yorkshire.

Also read: Adil Rashid backs up racism allegations against Michael Vaughan

“I got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat, literally down my throat,” he said.

Asked whether racism was institutional in cricket, Rafiq replied “Yes”, saying governing bodies such as the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had to take responsibility.

On Monday, current England spinner Adil Rashid joined ex-Pakistan Test player Rana Naved-ul-Hasan in alleging that former England Test captain Michael Vaughan had said in front of a group of Yorkshire players of Asian ethnicity in 2009: “Too many of you lot, we need to do something about it.” Vaughan has “categorically” denied making the comment.

“To be confronted with this allegation 11 years after it was supposed to have happened is the worst thing I have ever experienced,” he said in a statement.

The new Yorkshire chairman Kamlesh Patel welcomed Rashid's “courage in speaking up” and said he would be listening to the DCMS committee hearing with great interest.

Hutton and ECB chief executive Tom Harrison are both due to give evidence to the committee later Tuesday.

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