Yorkshire Cricket Club racism scandal sparks calls for 'heads to roll'

Player Azeem Rafiq’s case will be heard by a parliamentary committee

Azeem Rafiq playing for Yorkshire in 2017. Getty
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Two senior members of the British government – the prime minister and health secretary – have demanded action after a cricketer suffered racist abuse while playing for Yorkshire Cricket Club.

Azeem Rafiq, who played for his home county team Yorkshire during two stints between 2008 and 2018, made 43 allegations against the club, one of the giants of the English game.

An independent investigation commissioned by Yorkshire upheld seven complaints and found Rafiq was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying”. But the club took no action against staff or players.

Details of the player’s case will now be heard as a parliamentary committee picks up the case and is expected to hear graphic details of the abuse he endured.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that “heads should roll” over the controversy. England cricket star Monty Panesar said dressing room banter can cross the line into racism.

ESPNcricinfo this week published alleged details of the report, including a senior player's admission that he had repeatedly used race-based slurs when talking about Rafiq – abuse that was deemed to be “in the spirit of friendly banter".

At one point Rafiq broke down in tears, but the offending player, who spoke to the independent inquiry, insisted that he did not realise he was causing offence and said he would have stopped if asked.

Inquiry investigators found the comments "capable of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment".

The inquiry panel responsible for making recommendations stated: "The panel does not accept that Azeem was offended by [the other player's] comments, either at the time they were made or subsequently."

Yorkshire Cricket Club, which did offer an apology, has so far continued to insist no action will be taken against any employees.

Rafiq's disturbing account of his time at the club first came to light more than a year ago, but the recent revelations caught the attention of senior Westminster figures.

Britain's Health Secretary Sajid Javid wants action. AFP

On Wednesday, Panesar, a former England spinner, said he was shocked that Yorkshire had not brought disciplinary action against any of its staff.

“It surprises everyone Yorkshire took no action. Yorkshire Cricket Club didn’t take the case as seriously as they should have done.

“The lack of transparency, the lack of clarity means we haven’t really understood why Yorkshire has not taken disciplinary action against some of the employees. It's possible they don’t understand how serious this case is.”

He said there is a place for banter in the dressing room, but a club must also know that banter can cross the line into racism.

“[It’s] one of the very few places where we have the camaraderie and the brotherhood. There is banter amongst each other but there is a boundary where things termed banter are over the line,” he said.

“It’s quite a concerning matter with Yorkshire. I think they need external help to understand the wider context.”

Dubai,  United Arab Emirates- January,  12, 2012:   Monty Panesar of England bowls during the match between England and Pakistan Cricket Board XI at ICC Global Academy in Dubai . (  Satish Kumar / The National ) For Sports

Mr Javid issued a direct challenge to the game's governing body, which has only recently received a full copy of the Rafiq report as part of its own “thorough and fair” investigation.

“Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If @ECB_cricket doesn't take action it's not fit for purpose,” he said.

A Downing Street spokesperson, responding to Mr Javid's comments, said: “These are very serious allegations which have clearly had a very significant impact on Azeem Rafiq and it's important they are investigated thoroughly and quickly.

“We urge them to look at this with the utmost scrutiny and take action where needed. Language like that should never be used in any context or form whatsoever.”

Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton will be called to face the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee (DCMS) session, which could yield unpublished revelations because it will be covered by parliamentary privilege.

DCMS committee chair Julian Knight demanded the resignation of members of Yorkshire's board over what he described as the “endemic racism” at the club.

The English Cricket Board said: “We are sorry this has not yet been resolved.”

Updated: November 03, 2021, 11:14 AM