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In a rapidly globalising world, institutional racism must ideally be nipped at the bud. The recent happenings at Yorkshire County Cricket Club paint a harrowing picture of the reality.

The Yorkshire County Cricket Club has a well-fabled legacy spanning 158 years. The county has produced the most players for the England National Cricket Team and is the most successful club with 33 Championship wins. However, the club’s glaring failures were brought to light through the bravery of their former captain Azeem Rafiq, who accused the club of being institutionally racist.

It took 14 months for heads to roll. Club Chairman Roger Hutton resigned on the 5th of this month. Head coach Andrew Gale is currently suspended as he is being investigated for an 11-year-old deleted tweet that contained an anti-Semitic slur. The UK government is prepared to intervene if no “real action” is taken by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Other former and youth players who played for Yorkshire have come forward with further allegations of facing racism.

30-year-old Azeem Rafiq was born in Karachi, Pakistan. After moving to England aged 10, he played most of his cricket for Yorkshire between 2008 and 2018. Rafiq captained England’s U-15 and U-19 teams before becoming the youngest man to captain Yorkshire in 2012. He was also the first person of Asian origin to captain a Yorkshire side.

Rafiq first commented on experiencing racism in an interview with Wisden in August 2020. He spoke further on the matter the next month, claiming to ESPN Cricinfo that “I was on the brink of suicide” and that he “lost faith in humanity” after the Yorkshire Cricket Club blatantly ignored racist behaviour. Rafiq said to BBC Sport that he “dreaded every second” of playing for the county. He alleged that a teammate had used an offensive term linked to his Pakistani heritage.

Yorkshire launched a formal investigation in September 2020. Law firm Squire Patton Boggs carried out a full, independent investigation.

Rafiq made his first statement to the inquiry on 13th November 2020. He provided detailed allegations of racism. Rafiq filed a legal claim in December 2020 claiming discrimination on the grounds of race, separate to the independent investigation. The claim found no resolution.

The findings of the investigation were shared with Yorkshire in August 2021. The report’s findings were withheld by the club, who offered their ‘profound apologies’ to Rafiq. The player accused Yorkshire of downplaying racism and proclaimed that he was a victim of inappropriate behaviour.

On September 10th, following pressure from MPs, Yorkshire released their summary of the report’s findings. The report revealed that Rafiq was a “Victim of racial harassment and bullying,” with seven of the 43 allegations upheld. The full report was not released for legal reasons. The club said that there was “insufficient evidence to conclude that the club was institutionally racist.” Rafiq questioned the validity of the investigation.

An employment judge ordered the Yorkshire Cricket Club to send the full report of the findings to Rafiq and his legal team by 8th October. The club missed the deadline by five days and sent a heavily redacted copy of the report to Rafiq.

On 28th October, Yorkshire stated that no disciplinary action would be faced by anyone. Four days later, ESPN Cricinfo’s George Dobell published an article in which he outlined that a racist term was used frequently to address Rafiq, but the investigation concluded that it was ‘friendly and good-natured banter.’

This shocking finding enraged everyone. MP Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select community, called for the Yorkshire board to resign. UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid asked for large-scale changes and requested a further probe into the incident. Yorkshire Cricket Club felt the repercussions of the rage. Their kit supplier Nike and other sponsors either ended partnerships or would not continue deals with the club. After an England and Wales Cricket Board meeting on 4th November, the ECB suspended Yorkshire from hosting international matches until standards are met.’

Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton resigned the next day. Hutton apologised unreservedly to Rafiq and said that he “Experienced a culture that refuses to accept change or challenge.” In his resignation statement, Hutton expressed his outrage at the ECB for declining to help. He claimed that he had “Reached out immediately, but there was a reluctance to act from the board.”

Yorkshire Club’s Board members Hanif Malik and Stephen Willis stood down, and Lord Kamlesh Patel was appointed as the director and chair. Another investigation was launched after a former player alleged that he was subjected to frequent racial abuse at the club. On 5th November, the Equality and Human Rights Commission began looking into the handling of the Rafiq case to find any breaches of the law.

Twenty-two-year-old Abdul Rehman Arsal from Karachi is a student at Sussex University. He strongly feels that “Athletes in a foreign country don’t speak up when discriminated based on race or religion as they feel scared to blame someone in a new, foreign environment and that can be very intimidating. Such individuals might be more confident in calling out discrimination once they are more familiar with the environment around them; that is why we see cases come to light years after the incidents.”

Abdur Rehman Ovais, 19, voiced his affirmations for Rafiq’s actions. Ovais, who also hails from Karachi, said “Such incidents destroy athletes’ lives, and it is best that they are addressed as early as possible. In Azeem’s case, he exposed the actions of his teammates with minimal support. It is very difficult for the truth to come out and I believe more people should support those who stand up to these issues with such bravery.”

(Abdur is a second-year Business and Management Student at the University of Sussex)

Yorkshire academy players Irfan Amjad and Tabassum Bhatti also spoke about their experiences with racism at 16 and 14 years old, respectively.

In an interview with BBC Sport, Tabassum Bhatti said that racist comments were fairly regular at Yorkshire. He alleged that “Players urinated on his head, desecrated another Muslim player’s prayer mat and used racist language aimed at my Pakistani heritage.”

Utpal Nadiger, 24, is one of India’s youngest Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists. Utpal is the co-founder of The Cricket Revolution, a sports technology platform that helps cricket players, academies and clubs through analysis and monitoring. He played a full season for the Cropston Cricket Club. Utpal feels that it is “Very important for athletes to speak out while witnessing or experiencing racism.” He adds, “Fortunately, I haven’t been a witness to any racism first-hand. My club was brilliant when it came to professionalism on the field and maintaining a friendly camaraderie off the field. Impacted players should go to the authorities. If they need social media support, there are support agencies you can go to for recourse.”

On 8th November, Lord Patel addressed the media for the first time since his appointment. He apologised profusely to Rafiq and mentioned that the club had settled an employment tribunal with the player. He declared the investigation ‘flawed’ and cited a ‘need for change’.

Sport and Cultural Minister Chris Philip spoke in the House of Commons, calling the fact that nobody faced disciplinary action over the Rafiq report “unacceptable” and that the UK Government was ready to “step in if Yorkshire and the ECB did not take real action.”

Speaking to the committee this morning, Azeem Rafiq boldly came out with an open secret in the English dressing room. Rafiq said: “Kevin was something Gary Ballance used to describe anyone of colour in a derogatory manner. At the end of 2017, we had a difficult pregnancy. Some of the treatment I received from a few club officials was inhuman.” Rafiq sums up his treatment with a line that is going to haunt world cricket for a long time: “I lost my career to racism.”

We will get more answers after the DCMS select committee hearing today. MPs will question Rafiq, Hutton, Director of Cricket Martyn Moxon and Chief Executive Mark Arthur.

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