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