Roger Hutton: why Yorkshire CCC chairman resigned prior to board meeting, amid Azeem Rafiq cricket racism row

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Yorkshire County Cricket Club board members are to attend an unscheduled meeting to discuss allegations made by former player Azeem Rafiq

The Yorkshire CCC chairman, Roger Hutton, has resigned and “apologised unreservedly” for the handling of Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations.

It comes after an investigation found Pakistan-born Rafiq was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” - however the club said they would take no disciplinary action.

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Hutton had been under pressure to step down following the Rafiq’s claims and admitted that the club “should have recognised at the time the serious allegations of racism”.

Hutton claimed he immediately reached out to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) when he was aware of Rafiq’s allegations, however there was a “reluctance to act”.

The ECB called YCCC's handling of the issues raised by Azeem Rafiq as "wholly unacceptable" and "causing serious damage to the reputation of the game".

Headingley has since been stripped of its right to host international cricket and lost its main sponsor Emerald as the fallout continued ahead of a DCMS committee hearing on 16 November.

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Roger Hutton statement in full

In a statement regarding his resignation, Hutton said: “Today I announce my resignation as chairman of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, with immediate effect. It is with great sadness to leave a Club I was immensely proud to serve and have loved since watching my first game from the old County Stand at the age of seven.

“The Club has proud traditions and status as one of sports biggest brands and, as chairman, I had a vision for our Club which was shared by the non-executive members of the Board - we truly believed we could make the cultural changes to take it out of the past and into the future.

“In August 2020, a former Yorkshire player and the youngest captain in the Club’s history - Azeem Rafiq - gave an interview to the well-respected cricketing publication, Wisden. In it he recounted his experience of playing Club cricket at Yorkshire, the racism he encountered and the mental anguish this caused him and his family.

“This was a man who was calling for change, meaningful change for other young men and women facing the same challenges he faced in the sport he loved. Azeem left the Club in August 2018, 18 months before I joined the Board in April 2020.

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Ex-England international Gary Ballance “regrets” using racist language towards his former Yorkshire team-mate Azeem Rafiq. Ex-England international Gary Ballance “regrets” using racist language towards his former Yorkshire team-mate Azeem Rafiq.
Ex-England international Gary Ballance “regrets” using racist language towards his former Yorkshire team-mate Azeem Rafiq. | Getty Images

“I have never met Azeem and was not at the Club during the period he was employed. I know however, that when someone makes claims as serious as his, they need to be investigated and changes need to be made.

“I would like to take this opportunity to apologise unreservedly to Azeem. The Club should have recognised at the time the serious allegations of racism. I am sorry that we could not persuade executive members of the Board to recognise the gravity of the situation and show care and contrition.

“I remain disappointed that legal restrictions, including an ongoing employment tribunal, have prevented the investigation report from being published and look forward to the time that everyone can see its recommendations. I hope for it to be published as soon as possible.

“I want to be clear that when I was made aware of Azeem Rafiq’s allegations, I immediately reached out to the ECB to ask for their help and intervention to support a robust inquiry. I was saddened when they declined to help as I felt it was a matter of great importance for the game as a whole.

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“It is a matter of record that I have continually expressed my frustration at the ECB’s reluctance to act. 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.

“During my time as chairman, I take responsibility for failing to persuade them to take appropriate and timely action. This frustration has been shared by all of the non-executive members of the Board, some of whom have also now resigned. I now call for those executive members of the Board to resign, to make way for a new path for the Club I love so much.

“I will of course continue to fully cooperate with the ECB and the invitation to give evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee.

“The Club has some brilliant people and has done much to be proud of, particularly the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation, and I want to see more grassroots education in the game to put an end to racism for good.

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“I look forward to the time when Yorkshire County Cricket Club is a great Club again and will always support those who share my love for the Club and wish our supporters and team well.”

Hutton’s resignation comes ahead of Friday’s emergency board meeting, following which more board members are expected to resign.

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