I lost career to racism, Rafiq tells UK lawmakers

Published November 17, 2021
A VIDEO grab from the footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq fighting back tears while testifying in front of a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee in London on Tuesday.—AFP
A VIDEO grab from the footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq fighting back tears while testifying in front of a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee in London on Tuesday.—AFP

LONDON: Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq fought back tears as he told British lawmakers on Tuesday he had lost his career to racism, detailing widespread discrimination within the English game in compelling testimony.

An independent report found the Pakistan-born player was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” while playing for the county club but said it would not discipline anybody -- a decision greeted with widespread disbelief.

The fallout for Yorkshire over the scandal has been devastating, with sponsors making a mass exodus, resignations from top administrators and the club suspended from hosting lucrative international matches.

Tuesday’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing offered Rafiq the chance to speak with the protection of parliamentary privilege -- a freedom he used to recount his harrowing experiences.

“I felt, isolated, humiliated at times,” said the 30-year-old. “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.”

The off-spinner, who said he once dreamed of playing for England, said cricket was blighted by institutional racism “up and down the country”.

Rafiq, who is a Muslim, also recounted a frightening experience of being “pinned down” and forced to drink alcohol at the age of 15 when he was at his local cricket club.

And in an highly emotional segment of his evidence, which lasted nearly 100 minutes, he spoke of the “inhuman” treatment by Yorkshire when his son was still-born in 2017.

“They weren’t really bothered about the fact that I was at training one day and I get a phone call to say there’s no heartbeat,” he said, his voice cracking.

Rafiq, who had two spells at the club, said: “Do I believe I lost my career to racism? Yes, I do.”

He also mentioned a number of former team-mates by name, speaking about how ex-England internationals Matthew Hoggard and Gary Ballance, the latter still at Yorkshire, had used racial slurs towards him.

“‘Kevin’ was something Gary used to describe anyone of colour in a very derogatory manner,” he said. “It was an open secret in the England dressing room.”

Rafiq said 2005 Ashes winner Hoggard had phoned him to apologise for the comments he had made.

He also said he found it “hurtful” that England Test captain Joe Root, who has spent his career at Yorkshire, had never witnessed anything of a racist nature at the Headingley-based club.

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

“I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary [Ballance]’s housemate and had been involved in a lot of the socialising where I was called a ‘Paki’.”

On Monday, current England spinner Adil Rashid joined ex-Pakistan Test player Rana Naved-ul-Hasan in alleging that former England 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.

Asked about Vaughan, Rafiq said: “Michael might not remember it... three of us, Adil, myself and Rana remember it.”

Rafiq was scathing in his assessment of diversity initiatives by the England and Wales Cricket Board, saying they were examples of “box-ticking” and “tokenism”.

ECB chairman Tom Harrison, who faced an intense grilling from the MPs, admitted the organisation had let Rafiq down, saying tackling racism in the game would be a priority.

“We will fix it fast,” he said. “We know the survival of our sport depends on it. We will transform this game very quickly.” But committee chairman Julian Knight, who said Rafiq had given “harrowing personal testimony”, warned the ECB it had a huge task on its hands, with other players at Yorkshire and elsewhere also coming forward with allegations of racism.

“The ECB failed to take decisive action at the outset and it is clear there is much work for it to do as a national governing body and a regulator if cricket’s tarnished reputation in this country is to be restored,” said Knight.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the evidence was “concerning”, adding: “There is no place for racism in sport. “There is no place for racism anywhere in society.”

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2021

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