The Guardian: LONDON, England – Azeem Rafiq broke down in tears in front of MPs as he laid bare the racism, bullying and “inhuman” treatment he faced at Yorkshire cricket, which even extended to a senior club official “ripping the shreds” off him just after he was told his baby had no heartbeat.
Over nearly two hours of devastating and raw testimony to the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, Rafiq delivered a damning verdict on the culture of English cricket. He agreed that it was “institutionally racist” and said it needed to face up to an institutional racism problem “up and down the country”, with players of Pakistani heritage still being called the P-word and British Asian representation in cricket dropping by 40% since 2010.
Rafiq said racism had seeped into the England dressing room, where it was an “open secret” that the England and Yorkshire player Gary Ballance used the name “Kevin” as a derogatory word for black and Asian players. Rafiq understood that another England player, Alex Hales, had later named his dog Kevin as it was black.
At one point the committee had to break for several minutes after the Pakistan-born Rafiq, who is Muslim, struggled with the emotions of recounting painful experiences, which included being forced to drink alcohol when he was 15.
“I got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat, literally down my throat,” the 30-year-old said. “The player played for Yorkshire and Hampshire. I then didn’t touch alcohol until about 2012 and around that time I felt I had to do that to fit in.”
In a series of extraordinary exchanges, Rafiq told MPs that he had faced repeated racist comments from senior players throughout two spells at Yorkshire between 2008 and 2018 but the club had done nothing to stop it.
“There were comments such as, ‘You lot sit there near the toilets’, ‘Elephant washers’,” he claimed. “The word Paki was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one stamped it out.”
Rafiq said racism was rife across cricket. He cited one player being called a “bomber” and Maurice Chambers’s experience of “monkey” and “banana” jibes at Essex. “I’ve had messages from Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire,” he told MPs. “Some are still scared, some ask if it is racism? One recurrence is that ‘Paki’ is common.”
A 57-page witness statement, part of Rafiq’s submission to an employment tribunal and published by the DCMS select committee, went into excruciating detail about Rafiq’s experiences – which alleged hearing racist remarks from several other former Yorkshire and England players, including Tim Bresnan, Matthew Hoggard, and sustained abuse and bullying from Ballance and the former Yorkshire coach and captain Andrew Gale.
After Rafiq’s evidence Bresnan “apologised unreservedly” in a statement issued through his current county, Warwickshire, “for any part I played in contributing to Azeem Rafiq’s experience of feeling bullied at Yorkshire”.
Ballance has previously admitted using a racial slur but claimed it was part of friendly exchanges between the pair. That was disputed by Rafiq, a former England Under-19 captain, who added that the club’s lack of action left him feeling “isolated and humiliated”.
Rafiq said that Yorkshire’s attitude to him changed the moment after he and six or seven other players made complaints accusing Bresnan of bullying in 2017, but Rafiq said he was the only one singled out for being a troublemaker.
Soon afterwards, Rafiq’s son was stillborn but he told the committee that instead of showing him compassion the club’s director of cricket Martyn Moxon, the former England and Yorkshire player, had verbally gone for him. “The first day back after losing my son, Moxon literally got me in a room and ripped the shreds off me,” he claimed. “I’ve never seen him speak to anyone like that at the club.”
Struggling to speak as recalled how he had told them he had felt suicidal, Rafiq said: “Some of the club officials were inhuman. They weren’t really bothered about the fact that I was at training one day and I got a phone call to say there’s no heartbeat.”
Moxon, who has been signed off with stress, and Mark Arthur, Yorkshire’s former chief executive, face severe criticism in the Yorkshire report over apparent inaction after Rafiq subsequently reported his dossier of racism claims in 2018.
Rafiq also claimed he was abused by Ballance on multiple occasions, including on a pre-season tour in 2017. “We were in a place and Gary Ballance walks over and goes: ‘Why are you talking to him? You know he’s a Paki.’ He’s not a sheikh, he’s got no oil. This happened in front of teammates. It happened in front of the coaching staff.”
Ballance also used the word “Kevin” as a term of abuse, including while on England duty, Rafiq alleged. “Kevin was something Gary used to describe anyone of colour, it was an open secret in the England dressing room. It was used in a derogatory manner all the time,” he said. He said Hales had gone on to name his dog Kevin as it was black. “It’s disgusting how much of a joke it was.”
Rafiq also admitted that he was stung by the England captain Joe Root’s comments that he had never seen any racism in Yorkshire cricket. “Rootie is a good man,” he said. “He’s never engaged in racist language. I found it hurtful, because he was not only Gary’s housemate but he was involved before he started playing for England in a lot of nights out where I have been called ‘Paki’. He might not remember it, but it just shows how normal it was in that environment, in that institution, that people don’t remember. But it is something I remember, every day.”
Rafiq said that many in the game had tried to discredit him after he began speaking out, including the former England coach and Sky Sports commentator David Lloyd.
On Tuesday Lloyd admitted referring to allegations about Rafiq and also making “comments about the Asian cricket community”. He said: “I deeply regret my actions, and I apologise most sincerely to Azeem and to the Asian cricket community for doing this, and for any offence caused.”
In his evidence to MPs the former Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton, who resigned on November 5, was asked whether he thought the club was institutionally racist. “I fear that it falls within the definition,” he said.
The chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Tom Harrison, said his message to cricket supporters was: “We know we may have let you down. We will fix it fast. We know the survival of our sport depends on it.”
Rafiq told the committee: “I don’t want my son to go anywhere near cricket. The game as a whole has a problem, with listening to the victim. There is no ‘yeah, but’ with racism; there is no ‘two sides’ to racism.”
Towards the end of his extraordinary and powerful testimony, Rafiq was asked whether he believed he lost his career as a result of racism. “Yes I do,” was his pained reply, before daring to dream of better days ahead. “It’s horrible. But I am a massive believer in that everything happens for a reason. And hopefully in five years’ time we are going to see a big change.”