York­shire racism storm

Asian bowler was al­most driven to sui­cide by ex­pe­ri­ences County sets up in­ves­ti­ga­tion and vows to im­prove di­ver­sity

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Nick Hoult Wis­den

York­shire said last night they will con­duct a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Azeem Rafiq’s ac­cu­sa­tion that the club are “in­sti­tu­tion­ally racist”, af­ter the for­mer Eng­land Un­der-19 cap­tain re­vealed his ex­pe­ri­ences at Head­in­g­ley had left him on the brink of tak­ing his own life. The off-spin­ner said that as a Mus­lim, he was made to feel like an “out­sider” at the county.

York­shire have launched an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions of in­sti­tu­tion­alised racism af­ter for­mer bowler Azeem Rafiq said his ex­pe­ri­ences at the club left him on the brink of sui­cide.

Rafiq, 29, cap­tained York­shire in Twenty20 cricket but left in 2018 and said he was made to feel like an out­sider as a Mus­lim.

His com­ments, in an in­ter­view with the web­site ESPNcricin­fo, led York­shire to is­sue a state­ment con­firm­ing they had con­tacted Rafiq and set up an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his claims, as well as a wider re­view of the cul­ture of the club.

Rafiq is the lat­est of a string of crick­eters from Asian or black com­mu­ni­ties to ac­cuse English cricket of racism, fol­low­ing com­ments this sum­mer by Michael Car­berry, for­mer Sur­rey player Chris Thomp­son and Owais Shah.

Rafiq first spoke out sev­eral weeks ago in an in­ter­view with the

cricket mag­a­zine but it was only yes­ter­day that York­shire fi­nally ad­dressed his ac­cu­sa­tions, leav­ing him sceptical that any real ac­tion would be taken.

“I know how close I was to com­mit­ting sui­cide dur­ing my time at York­shire,” he said. “I was liv­ing my fam­ily’s dream as a pro­fes­sional crick­eter, but in­side I was dy­ing. I was dread­ing go­ing to work. I was in pain ev­ery day.

“There were times I did things to try to fit in that, as a Mus­lim, I now look back on and re­gret. I’m not proud of it at all. But as soon as I stopped try­ing to fit in, I was an out­sider. There were no coaches on the staff from a sim­i­lar back­ground who un­der­stood what it was like.

“Look at a squad pho­to­graph; at the coaches. How many non-white faces do you see? De­spite the eth­nic di­ver­sity of the cities in York­shire, de­spite the love for the game from Asian com­mu­ni­ties, how many peo­ple from those back­grounds are mak­ing it into the first team?

“It’s ob­vi­ous to any­one who cares that there’s a prob­lem. Do I think there is in­sti­tu­tional racism? It’s at its peak, in my opin­ion. My only mo­ti­va­tion now is to pre­vent any­one else feel­ing the same pain.

“When I first spoke about this sub­ject, to Wis­den.com, I didn’t men­tion the club by name. As a re­sult, York­shire claimed I might not have been talk­ing about them. So let me make it re­ally clear: I am talk­ing about York­shire. I be­lieve the club is in­sti­tu­tion­ally racist and I don’t be­lieve they are pre­pared to ac­knowl­edge the fact or will­ing to change.”

Stung into ac­tion, the club re­leased a state­ment yes­ter­day af­ter con­sul­ta­tion with the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board, with Roger Hut­ton, the chair­man, ad­mit­ting the county “has to do bet­ter” with di­ver­sity pro­grammes and would ask “im­par­tial ex­ter­nal par­ties” to lead an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“We ac­knowl­edge that just as in many walks of life, sport, in­clud­ing cricket and York­shire as a club, must do bet­ter to pro­mote a cul­ture of zero tol­er­ance to racism or any form of prej­u­dice,” Hut­ton said.

“We ac­cepted a long time ago that change was needed at Head­in­g­ley to im­prove di­ver­sity, es­pe­cially in terms of racial in­clu­siv­ity. We have tried to make con­tact with Azeem this week to dis­cuss his ex­pe­ri­ences, and will make fur­ther con­tact in the weeks ahead as it’s im­por­tant that we hear his griev­ances in as much de­tail as pos­si­ble.”

Rafiq was born in Pak­istan but moved to Barns­ley as a child. He had two stints at York­shire but left two years ago af­ter a pe­riod of per­sonal tragedy in his life when his son was still­born.

“I took my son straight from the hos­pi­tal to the fu­neral,” Rafiq said. “York­shire told me they would look af­ter me pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally, but all I heard af­ter that was a short email. I was told I was be­ing re­leased. I felt it was used against me, re­ally. It killed me for a while. I thought they had my best in­ter­ests at heart. I lost faith in hu­man­ity.”

Gul­fraz Riaz, the chair­man of the Na­tional Asian Cricket Coun­cil, called on York­shire to take ac­tion. “It’s very dis­ap­point­ing and con­cern­ing to hear of Azeem’s ex­pe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly the im­pact it has had on his men­tal health,” he said. “It’s im­por­tant that the mat­ter is in­ves­ti­gated in a thor­ough and pro­fes­sional way by his for­mer county.”

Out­sider: Azeem Rafiq left York­shire in 2018 and says that he ‘dreaded go­ing to work’

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