Azeem Rafiq – ‘Cricket is in denial’ about problem of racism

Azeem Rafiq, the former Yorkshire allrounder, has warned that English cricket remains “in denial” about the extent of the institutional racism in the sport, 13 months on from his powerful testimony at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Parliamentary select committee.

Returning to Westminster for his second appearance before the DCMS committee, Rafiq told how he and his family had been forced to leave the UK due to harassment, and claimed that some members of the sport’s establishment – including sections of the media and senior figures at the ECB – have sought to discredit him, rather than address the issues he raised.

“If I was to look at 13 months on from me opening my heart out, all that’s changed really is that me and my family have been driven out of the country,” he told the committee. “And that’s a sad element of it.

“I would love to come here and tell you how much cricket has changed, but unfortunately what it feels like is that cricket is very much in denial. There are still a group of people out there who feel like cricket is the victim in this. “

Despite receiving widespread coverage and recognition for his testimony in November 2021, in which he said that he lost his career to racism, Rafiq said that the abuse he had received since that hearing – which has included an instance of a man defecating outside his parents’ house – would make it all the more unlikely that other whistleblowers will come forward in the future.

“The way I’ve been attacked and abused, why would you speak out?” he said. “I’ve got a little hope in the new [ECB] leadership, but it’s very little at the minute.

“I haven’t felt supported at all. In the last couple of months, I have received 24/7 security, but I have been forced to leave. Providing of security has been good throughout, but there was no protection at times.

“I have felt even the ECB has been involved in the leaking and planting of stories about me. My medical information and data has been shared. I have made that point to the new chair [Richard Thompson].

“I have felt that when there has been any chance to discredit my experiences, even the ECB has tried to do that. For me, I don’t think it’s about individuals. The structural problems within cricket are a lot bigger.”

Rafiq added that the Yorkshire Post‘s coverage of his case had been a significant factor in his decision to move his family to Pakistan, a notion backed up by another witness at the hearing, George Dobell – the former ESPNcricinfo senior correspondent who now writes for The Cricketer – who accused the post of providing “a voice for the racist”.

“I have been forced to leave, and one reason that has happened was the Yorkshire Post‘s writing,” Rafiq said. “I would be willing to sit down with them [the paper’s editors] as the Jewish community have with me.”

Responding to the remarks, the posts editor James Mitchinson told the paper he denied the “scurrilous and unfounded allegations”, adding that the post has been “seeking to tell all sides of the story” with “objectivity, impartiality and professionalism”.

Rafiq’s frustrations were shared by the former fast bowler Jahid Ahmed, who also spoke out about his own experience of racism at Essex last year.

“I don’t think much has changed to be honest,” Jahid said, “I’ve been very frustrated for over a year now since I spoke out. I received no support whatsoever from anyone really.

“I’m a victim, I don’t feel like I get any support from anyone at the moment. Whether they care, I don’t know because it seems like I haven’t received much support.”

Essex said in a statement that they had commissioned an independent investigation and report from Katharine Newton KC in the wake of allegations made by Jahid, as well as former team-mates Maurice Chambers and Zoheb Sharif.

“As the investigation is close to completion and it is the club’s intention – through a commitment to transparency – that the report will be published to its fullest extent possible, it would therefore be inappropriate to prejudge any of its findings or make any further comment, ” the club said.

Lord Kamlesh Patel, the Yorkshire chairman, added his own criticisms of the ECB’s inaction on the issue, accusing them of failing to support him when he was implementing urgent reforms to the club last year in the face of impending bankruptcy, and praising Rafiq’s perseverance in the face of relentless attacks on his character.

“If I was an individual who wasn’t a member of the House of Lords and hadn’t had any sort of leadership experience, you would walk away,” Patel said.

“I don’t know how Azeem gets the strength to carry on. You would just run. In the public eye, we get flak [but] this is relentless. And this is from an area where you don’t expect it – this is sport, for God’s sake.

“Individuals who have just been [making] a concerted attack, I don’t think people understand, I don’t think the ECB has got it.”

Back in June, and in the wake of his testimony, the ECB charged seven individuals at Yorkshire as well as the county itself, but the scheduled hearing of the Cricket Discipline Commission has been postponed to the new year, following an appeal into the decision to keep the process in the public domain.

“We condemn discrimination of any form and we applaud the bravery of those including Azeem and Jahid Ahmed who have spoken out about their experiences,” the ECB added.

“The investigations and disciplinary process regarding their allegations are complex and thorough and take considerable time given the number of allegations and parties, the extensive time period involved, and the number of potential witnesses engaged. We are working to conclude both cases as quickly as possible .

“We welcome the change that Lord Patel is leading at Yorkshire CCC and support his vision of making the club one that everyone in the county can be proud of. We are appalled at the level of racist abuse he has also received and recognize the pain this has caused him.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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