The chairman of Yorkshire Cricket Club has resigned and former England captain Michael Vaughan has denied making racist comments as the Azeem Rafiq racism row rumbles on.
The club have also been suspended from hosting international matches as the England and Wales Cricket Board delivered a stinging rebuke of the club’s “wholly unacceptable” handling of Rafiq’s claims.
Vaughan, writing in his Daily Telegraph column, said a report commissioned by Yorkshire states that he told a group of Asian players – including Rafiq – before a match against Nottinghamshire in 2009: "Too many of you lot, we need to do something about it."
"I completely and categorically deny that I ever said those words," the former Yorkshire player said.
"I will fight to the end to prove I am not that person."
Yorkshire player Gary Ballance admitted on Wednesday to using a “racial slur” against his former teammate.
But he insisted that his language needed to be understood in the context of an “incredibly close” friendship he had with Rafiq.
Chairman Roger Hutton criticised the conduct of senior members of the club when he resigned on Friday.
“There has been a constant unwillingness from the executive members of the board and senior management at the club to apologise, and to accept that there was racism, and to look forward. For much of my time at the club, I experienced a culture that refuses to accept change or challenge.”
A panel convened by Yorkshire upheld several allegations and, while the club accepted Rafiq was subjected to “racial harassment and bullying”, they chose to take no punitive action against employees, players or executives.
The situation worsened this week as it emerged that the panel determined repeated use of a racial term against former off-spinner Rafiq, who represented Yorkshire in two stints between 2008 and 2018, was “friendly banter”.
On the day more sponsors deserted Yorkshire, the ECB board convened to discuss what has fast become a crisis, admitting the “abhorrent” matter is “causing serious damage to the reputation of the game”.
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said he hoped the governing body's "unprecedented action" would show the organisation's desire to stamp out racism and discrimination.
"Cricket is probably the most powerful sport there is out there in terms of breaking down barriers, uniting communities together and building strong understanding between cultures, religions, backgrounds," he said.
"We need to shine a light on that bit when we come through these very, very difficult moments as a game, when we are being dragged through the mud and it is massively uncomfortable and it hurts.
"What we have to remain very focused on is that ability for this game to come through every crisis it faces and come out stronger for it."
The county was scheduled to stage a Test against New Zealand and a one-day international against South Africa next summer, and an Ashes match in 2023.
But it has been stripped of hosting England matches until the county can “meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and first-class county”.
The suspension covers other major matches, including The Hundred at Headingley, where Northern Superchargers this year played their home fixtures.
Ballance has been “suspended indefinitely” from England selection. He has not played for England since the last of his 23 Test appearances four years ago.
Rafiq said on Twitter: “I note the statement from the ECB. I need a little time to reflect on what the ECB has said this evening and the actions they’re proposing to take. I will not be commenting further at this time.”
Yorkshire, who are reported to have called an emergency board meeting for Friday to discuss the fall-out, could face heavy losses after the ECB sanctions.
The club’s 2019 accounts showed it had earned just under £10.5 million ($14.1m) from international ticket and hospitality revenue, compared with just over £3m from commercial income, which would include sponsorship.
The ECB last week received the panel’s full report, having first requested a copy in mid-August, and promised a full regulatory process that will be determined by the Cricket Disciplinary Committee, an independent tribunal.
But events in recent days have pressed the ECB to act now while it waits for the investigation to be completed.
“It is clear there are serious questions regarding the governance and management of YCCC," the ECB said.
"The club’s failure in relation to actions and responses to their own report represent a significant breach of its obligations to the game.
“The ECB board has asked the ECB executive to commission a review of Yorkshire CCC’s governance to consider whether the existing arrangements are fit for purpose.
“The board reiterated its unwavering commitment to ensuring that cricket is a game for everyone.
"Discrimination of any kind on the field of play, in the dressing room, in the stands, or in the boardroom. is intolerable in sport or indeed, society. Cricket must work together to eradicate it.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who in 2014 became the first British Pakistani to lead a government department, said “heads should roll” at Yorkshire, and that if the ECB did not step in, “it’s not fit for purpose”.
Mr Hutton will be called to face the parliamentary digital, culture, media and sport committee.
Rafiq is also expected to appear before an evidence session, which could lead to his most damning account yet, because of parliamentary privilege.
“The ECB’s action in taking international cricket away from Yorkshire should act as a short, sharp shock to bring the club to its senses," committee chairman Julian Knight said.
"Like the rest of us, I imagine the members of Yorkshire County Cricket Club will be questioning why the board is still in place.
“As for Mr Ballance, I’m choosing at this time not to comment on the specifics of the case. However, it would have been completely unacceptable if they had left him eligible for selection for the England cricket team.”
Harrogate Spring Water and Nike are the latest brands to sever ties with Yorkshire after the row, after Yorkshire Tea and Emerald Publishing Group withdrew as the title sponsor of Headingley.
Leeds Beckett University said it was “pausing all currently planned activity” with Yorkshire with immediate effect.
It said the club’s “public statements to date suggest that its approach to the handling of these accusations is inconsistent with our values and culture”.
“There is no current financial sponsorship arrangement between the university and the club and the university logo has been removed from the club website at our request," a university representative told PA.
“Our future relationship with YCCC will depend on what emerges from the ECB review and the evidence of meaningful change that the club commits to, to end racism.
"If it can do this, as we are seeking to do ourselves, then we would hope we can work together on a partnership that plays a positive role in our community in the future.”