Azeem Rafiq: what cricket player told racism hearing - as he tells of ‘inhuman’ treatment by Yorkshire
Azeem Rafiq has been asked about his experience of playing cricket for England and Yorkshire, his relationship with former teammate Gary Ballance and the impact the racial harassment has had on his mental health
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Rafiq first alleged racial harassment and bullying against the county and accused them of institutional racism in September last year.
The club launched an investigation soon afterwards but their handling of it has been heavily criticised.
They finally published summary findings of the investigation in September this year and, while the investigation found there was “no question” Rafiq had been subjected to racial harassment and bullying, no individuals faced disciplinary action.
Here we take a look at what Rafiq has said as he gave evidence to MPs at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
What Azeem Rafiq said about playing for England
Rafiq said: “Pretty early on at the club, I joined a dressing room full of my heroes, Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, part of the 2005 Ashes team. And it was just the most surreal moment for me.
“Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian background…there were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant washers’. The word P*** was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”
Rafiq added: “All I wanted to do is play cricket and play for England and live my dream and live my family’s dream. In my first spell, I don’t really think I quite realised what it was. I think I was in denial.”
What Azeem Rafiq said about his mental health
He said he started medication due to his deteriorating mental health and left Yorkshire for the first time in 2014.
When he returned he initially felt settled under captain Alex Lees and coach Jason Gillespie.
“Jason left in 2016 and it just felt like the temperature in the room had been turned up,” Rafiq said. “You had Andrew Gale coming in as coach and Gary Ballance as captain.
“For the first time I started to see for what it was – I felt isolated, humiliated at times. Constant use of the word ‘P***’.”
What Azeem Rafiq said about Gary Ballance
Rafiq said on a 2017 pre-season tour Ballance had racially abused him.
“We were in a place and Gary Ballance walks over and goes, ‘Why are you talking to him? You know he’s a P***’. This happened in front of team-mates. It happened in front of coaching staff.”
Former England batter Ballance admitted using a “racial slur” towards Rafiq in a lengthy statement issued earlier this month, apologising but framing it as part of a long and deep friendship.
Rafiq told the committee that was not an accurate depiction of their relationship, saying it went downhill from 2013 onwards and had become toxic by 2017.
Asked by chair Julian Knight about the term ‘Kevin’, he said it was an offensive, racist term that reached the very top of the game.
“Kevin was a something Gary used to describe anyone of colour in a very derogatory manner. It was an open secret in the England dressing room,” he said.
“Anyone who came across Gary would know that was a phrase he would use to describe people of colour.”
Rafiq also alleged former England batter Alex Hales was involved.
He said: “Gary and Alex Hales got really close to each other when they played for England together. I wasn’t present in that dressing room, but what I understand (is) that Alex went on to name his dog ‘Kevin’ because it was black. It’s disgusting how much of a joke it was.”
What Azeem Rafiq said about racism in cricket
Rafiq said the problem at Yorkshire was replicated “up and down the country”.
Asked about the fact others, such as former Essex and Northamptonshire player Maurice Chambers, had now spoken out, Rafiq said: “I would like to see it as progress that people are feeling like they can come forward and they are going to be heard and not just be discredited, smeared about, briefed about.”
He described England and Wales Cricket Board initiatives on diversity as “box-ticking” exercises and “tokenism”.
What Azeem Rafiq said about coming forward
Asked how he had summoned the strength to come forward, Rafiq added: “I had an interview about my new business. I got asked a question. And I got emotional. I said everything.
“Even at that point, I genuinely thought that there might be some humanity left in some of these individuals. But no. They thought, ‘He hasn’t talked about Yorkshire’. It was all about ‘discredit, discredit, discredit’. I don’t know how I’ve done it. This last 14 months has been incredibly difficult.”
What Azeem Rafiq said about England captain Joe Root
After the committee took a break as Rafiq became visibly emotional, Rafiq said he found it “hurtful” that England captain Joe Root said he had never witnessed anything of a racist nature at Yorkshire.
“Rooty is a good man. He never engaged in racist language,” Rafiq said.
“I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary (Ballance)’s housemate and had been involved in a lot of the socialising where I was called a ‘P***’.
“It shows how normal it was that even a good man like him doesn’t see it for what it was. It’s not going to affect Joe, but it’s something I remember every day.”
What Azeem Rafiq said about former England captain Michael Vaughan
Former England captain Michael Vaughan is named in the independent report into Rafiq’s claims, but has strenuously denied allegations he told four Asian team-mates: “(There’s) too many of your lot, we need to do something about it.”
Rafiq, Adil Rashid and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan all say they remember those words, while the fourth player Ajmal Shahzad has said he cannot recall any racism at the club.
Asked about Vaughan, Rafiq said: “Michael might not remember it…three of us, Adil, myself and Rana remember it.
“He clearly had a snippet of my statement. He used his platform at the Daily Telegraph to tell everyone he hadn’t said these things. To go on and put a snippet of my statement out and talk about other things, I thought was completely wrong.
“He probably doesn’t remember it because it doesn’t mean anything to him.”
What Azeem Rafiq said about Yorkshire’s investigation
Rafiq said Yorkshire’s investigation into his allegations had been “far from independent”.
He said that, while the investigation was live, members of the panel were entertained by the county at a Headingley Test match.
“It just shows the arrogance of these people,” he said.
Rafiq criticised the handling of his situation by the ECB and the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA).
He said: “When George Dobell published (his initial) article (in September 2020) I had a phone call from (ECB chief executive) Tom Harrison. I felt like he was listening, but then they took the stance that they would trust Yorkshire to do the right thing and then as regulators would come in to hold Yorkshire to account.
“It was difficult for me to take through the winter. I kept begging the ECB, the PCA, I kept telling them, ‘They (Yorkshire) are not doing the right thing, this is going to end up in a car crash for everyone’.
“No one wanted to do that until that Monday (November 2) when the article broke in Cricinfo, at that point the ECB came in.
“On a human point I felt like if someone else had told me they were suicidal and they were ringing you saying, ‘Please help’ I’d forget my constitution and help a human. Over the winter there were some real dark moments.
“I didn’t feel like they did that because they were concerned for me or worried for me, I feel that was done to tick a box in case I killed myself.”
Rafiq described the PCA as “incredibly inept” and added: “An organisation that should have supported me left me on my own.”
What Azeem Rafiq said about Matthew Hoggard
Rafiq said Matthew Hoggard had apologised to him after watching him being interviewed about his experience at Yorkshire.
He said: “I took a phone call from Matthew and he just said, ‘Look, I didn’t realise, I’m really sorry. If some of the comments I made made you feel the way you’ve described it, I just want to apologise’.
“You know what, when someone does that, I was like, ‘Thank you, I really appreciate it’.”
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