The new chairman of Yorkshire Cricket Club has revealed the county has settled a legal case with racism whistle-blower Azeem Rafiq as he publicly apologised to the cricketer.
The county has been widely criticised over its handling of racism and bullying allegations, which led to the England and Wales Cricket Board suspending its right to host international matches and sponsors walking away.
It was reported that a teammate had repeatedly used derogatory slurs aimed towards Rafiq, but the allegation was not upheld on the basis that it was "banter".
Speaking at a press conference, Lord Patel said Yorkshire had settled a separate employment tribunal with Rafiq, and did not demand a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
“Azeem is a whistle-blower and should be praised as such, he should never have been put through this,” Mr Patel said.
“We’re sorry for what you and your family have experienced and the way in which we’ve handled this.
“I thank Azeem for his bravery in speaking out. Let me be clear from the outset, racism or discrimination in any form is not banter.”
“Absolutely no restrictions have been placed on Azeem on what he can or cannot say about his experiences."
The chairman said “appropriate sanctions” would be imposed on anyone found guilty of racism but that there had to be a way back for those who understood their mistakes and were genuinely remorseful for their actions.
Rafiq’s former teammate Gary Ballance admitted to using a racial slur towards him in a lengthy statement released last week.
Mr Patel’s reference to “banter” came after that term was reportedly used in the county’s report into Rafiq’s allegations.
The chairman said he was commissioning a specialist independent review of the county’s processes and procedures on diversity and inclusion.
He said he had spoken to the ECB about the restoration of international cricket but that Yorkshire would have to “address the root causes” that led to the suspension.
Mr Patel said he had not been fully able to digest Yorkshire’s report into Rafiq’s allegations.
“What I’ve seen so far does feel uncomfortable. It makes me feel the process wasn’t as well completed as it should have been,” he said.
He said he would release the report to those who had a “legal interest”, rather than simply publish it.
This would include, he said, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Julian Knight, the chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.
Asked about the future of senior leaders at Yorkshire, including chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon, he said: “Leadership is important in any of these circumstances.
“But I need to look across the system at how people behaved, what made that happen and where we need to go next.”
Mr Patel was asked whether he was proud of Yorkshire.
“We’re going to be proud of it from this moment onwards because we’re going to accept that wrong decisions have been made,” he said.
He said he had spoken to Rafiq for six and a half hours since his appointment as chairman on Friday.
“It was difficult and it was actually quite sad. It was tough for me, it was incredibly tough for him,” he said.
“You did feel ‘why would we do this to any human being’?”
Mr Patel said he had asked Rafiq to “sit on his shoulder” and “challenge him” on how he handles matters from this point onwards.
“It would be a shame not to work together to seek his help to find a way forward,” he said.
Rafiq wants more resignations
Rafiq later released a statement of his own, calling on Mr Moxon and Mr Arthur to quit.
“I want to thank my family, the public, politicians, the media and the many players and coaches who have supported me both publicly and privately,” he said.
“You have given me strength to get through the bad times, of which there have been too many since I first spoke about my experiences.
“I also want to thank Lord Patel for making the offer and sorting this out within 72 hours of his appointment. It should not have taken the rest of the club a year to realise I would not be silenced through an NDA. I spoke out because I wanted to create change at the club.
“I brought a legal claim because the club refused to acknowledge the problem and create change. For the first time that I can remember, I have hope this might happen – but I will be watching and continue to campaign to ensure that it does.
“As Lord Patel said, this is just the start if we are to make cricket open to everyone, no matter their background. Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the sport at large desperately need reform.
“I will continue to campaign against institutional racism and look forward to speaking at the select committee hearing next week. I urge others who have suffered to come forward. There is strength in numbers and I will be right behind you."