‘I felt isolated, humiliated’: Rafiq says English cricket rife with racism

Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq broke down in tears as he told a British parliamentary committee of “inhuman” treatment at the club and described the sport in England as riddled with racism.

In more than an hour of testimony, Rafiq, 30, a former England under-19s captain of Pakistani descent, catalogued a culture of widespread racism at Yorkshire.

He and other players with Asian backgrounds were subjected to racial slurs such as, “You lot sit over there” and referred to as “P—” and “elephant washers”, Rafiq said.

“I felt isolated, humiliated at times,” he said during emotional testimony to the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media & Sport panel.

“Do I believe I lost my career to racism? Yes, I do. I hope in five years’ time we are going to see a big change, that I did something far bigger than any runs or any wickets I got.”

Asked if he thought cricket was institutionally racist in the country, Rafiq responded: “Yes, I do.”

The scandal has shaken English sport, cost Yorkshire sponsors and the right to host England games, seen the club’s top brass quit, and embroiled former England captain Michael Vaughan and current national team skipper Joe Root.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson commended Rafiq for his “brave testimony”, saying on Twitter there was no excuse for racism.

“We expect @EnglandCricket and @YorkshireCCC to take immediate action in response to these allegations,” he said.

Rafiq, a Muslim off-spin bowler who played for Yorkshire from 2008-14 and again from 2016-18, recounted having red wine poured down his throat as a 15-year-old and spoke of Asian players being singled out for mistakes while they were fasting.

Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq gives evidence during a British parliamentary hearing.Credit:AP

Rafiq said the racism he endured at Yorkshire was “without a shadow of doubt” replicated across the country, and said British-Asian representation in the professional game had dropped 40 per cent since 2010.

He told the hearing he would not want his son “anywhere near cricket” and that players from other county clubs had contacted him with similar experiences.

Former Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton, who resigned following the club’s failure to discipline anyone in response to a club report into Rafiq’s allegations, said the England and Wales Cricket Board should have carried out the investigation.

Former England Test player Gary Ballance.Credit:AP

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“It would have been far better had they done that. This was a whistleblowing claim from 2007 to 2018, against the executive of the club,” Hutton told the hearing.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said the first-class game was struggling to wake up to diversity issues.

“If we’re not in an emergency, we’re approaching one,” he said.

Rafiq said there was a toxic atmosphere at Yorkshire under captain Gary Ballance, vice-captain Tim Bresnan, head coach Andrew Gale and director of cricket Martyn Moxon.

Rafiq said Ballance used the name “Kevin” as a derogatory term for any player of colour and that the term was an “open secret within the England dressing room”.

In a November 4 statement Ballance, who played 23 Tests for England, acknowledged he used racial slurs and said he deeply regretted some of the language he used when he was younger.

Yorkshire said last week that Moxon was off work with a stress-related illness. Gale has been suspended for an alleged anti-Semitic tweet he sent in 2010. Reuters has been unable to reach either for comment.

Rafiq said the extent of racism in English professional cricket was an open secret but that players lives were “made hell” if they spoke up.

Some of English cricket’s biggest names have been dragged into the controversy.

Rafiq said ex-England captain Vaughan told him and two other players of Asian origin that there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” before a match in 2009. Vaughan strongly denies the allegation.

Rafiq said current England captain Root, a Yorkshire player, was a good man who “has never engaged in racist language”, but the fact Root could not remember hearing racist language spoke volumes about the culture at the club.

Reuters, AP

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