Rafiq case – how cricket reached crisis point

Yorkshire board facing calls from government ministers to resign after publication of alleged details from investigation into former player Azeem Rafiq’s claims of racism; the report upheld seven of Rafiq’s allegations but Yorkshire say no employees will face disciplinary action

Last Updated: 03/11/21 4:59pm

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Sky Sports News reporter James Cole explains retraces the timeline of events since former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq made allegations of institutional racism against the club.

Sky Sports News reporter James Cole explains retraces the timeline of events since former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq made allegations of institutional racism against the club.

More than a year after former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq made allegations of institutional racism against the club, some of the country’s leading politicians have intervened to demand the sort of consequences he has been pushing for.

Rafiq has repeatedly demanded significant action be taken since making the allegations in September 2020, and was left infuriated last month when Yorkshire said that no disciplinary action would be taken against any of their employees – despite an investigation finding he was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying”.

ESPNcricinfo this week published alleged details from the report, revealing that a senior Yorkshire player had admitted repeatedly using the work “P***” in reference to Rafiq, and the case has now begun to attract widespread attention.

Health secretary Sajid Javid says “heads should roll” at Yorkshire, prime minister Boris Johnson has called for the England and Wales Cricket Board to investigate “thoroughly and quickly”, and the county’s chairman Roger Hutton has been called to face the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Sky Sports News has followed and reported on Rafiq’s allegations throughout, and we now look back at how the case has created a major crisis for Yorkshire and English cricket.

2008-2018 – Rafiq’s Yorkshire career

Rafiq’s Yorkshire career started brightly, with the county giving him his debut in a T20 match against Nottinghamshire in 2008 at the age of just 17.

The off spinner, who was showing the potential to become a fully-fledged all-rounder, would go onto to make his first-class debut in a County Championship fixture with Sussex the following summer, while he had also caught the attention of international selectors. He was chosen to captain England at the U19 World Cup, leading a team that featured current-day superstars Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler.

Rafiq enjoyed a promising start to his Yorkshire career

In 2012 Rafiq became Yorkshire’s youngest ever captain and their first of Asian origin, going unbeaten as skipper during the six T20 matches for which he stood in for the injured Andrew Gale. However, a series of knee injuries disrupted his progress, and by 2014 Yorkshire had allowed Rafiq to train with other counties, but this did little to reinvigorate his career.

What appeared to be a fairy tale return to the Yorkshire team occurred in 2016, as he contributed to a campaign that saw the team reach the T20 Finals Day and compete for the County Championship title. More impressive performances followed in 2017, but he was deemed surplus to requirements in 2018 and his association with the county was formally ended.

September 2020 – Rafiq reveals ‘suicidal’ thoughts in first allegations

In a September 2020 interview with ESPNcricinfo, Rafiq said that “deep-rooted” racism at Yorkshire had left him “close to committing suicide”.

Speaking to Sky Sports News days later, Rafiq shared further details: “At my worst, I was right on the edge, stood on my balcony. I would regularly come home from training and cry all day. It was a very difficult time for me.

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Rafiq details some of his allegations of institutional racism and explains how the experiences ‘have stuck with him’

Rafiq details some of his allegations of institutional racism and explains how the experiences ‘have stuck with him’

“In one of my first few games, we were going onto the field at Trent Bridge and there was me, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved and one of the senior players said: ‘there’s too many of you lot, it’s something we need to have a word about’.

“We would be on nights out, I’d be speaking to someone and I’d have team-mates coming over and saying: ‘Don’t speak to him. He’s a p-word.’

Yorkshire swiftly launched an investigation, asking independent law firm Squire Patton Boggs to lead the review of Rafiq’s allegations, with Hutton describing the allegations as “hugely concerning”.

The ECB said it was “deeply troubled” by Rafiq’s experiences and “welcomed” Yorkshire’s investigation.

December 2020 – Rafiq submits legal claim

Yorkshire confirmed in October 2020 that the investigation was under way, while the following month Rafiq made his first statement to the panel convened by the county.

With the investigation ongoing, in December 2020 Rafiq filed a legal claim against the county under the Equality Act, claiming he suffered “direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race, as well as victimisation and detriment as a result of his efforts to address racism at the club”.

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Rafiq says there have been several difficult moments helping with Yorkshire’s investigation

Rafiq says there have been several difficult moments helping with Yorkshire’s investigation

Rafiq’s legal team said they were seeking “a declaration that the club acted unlawfully, as well as financial damages for the harm and detriment he suffered,” while also making recommendations “to ensure that changes are brought about at the club to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

The club responded by saying that they take the allegations “extremely seriously” but that it would be “inappropriate” to comment further while proceedings are ongoing.

The club also cited its own ongoing investigation and said it was awaiting the results and recommendations from it “early next year”.

June 2021 – No resolution reached as report is delayed

With no sign of the report in late February 2021, Rafiq’s lawyers warned that Yorkshire “risked legitimising racism” by delaying the release of their findings, suggesting that they could be being held back for the fear of their impact on the employment tribunal resulting from his legal claim, which had been scheduled for June.

Rafiq’s lawyer Asma Iqbal said the delays “create a lack of faith in the entire process and means trust in the sport’s ability to clean up its act is being seriously undermined”.

Yorkshire responded by saying they believed “that the investigation’s findings will be delivered before the next stage of the tribunal, but it would be inappropriate to try to tailor its timing to fit with tribunal proceedings.”

The findings had not been released when the tribunal was held in June, with Rafiq and the county failing to resolve their dispute.

The club said it was “sorry” that a resolution could not be reached, and that they expected the case to be listed for a private Case Management Conference.

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Rafiq questioned Yorkshire’s response after the county said their former player was a ‘victim of inappropriate behaviour’ following his allegations of institutional racism.

Rafiq questioned Yorkshire’s response after the county said their former player was a ‘victim of inappropriate behaviour’ following his allegations of institutional racism.

August 2021 – Yorkshire apologise, but deny institutional racism

In August 2021 Yorkshire issued “profound apologies” to Rafiq after stating that the report found that he was “the victim of inappropriate behaviour”, which they described as “clearly unacceptable”.

However, the county did not accept his claim of institutional racism, stating that “many of the allegations were not upheld and for others there was insufficient evidence for the panel to make a determination”.

Rafiq accused the county of “fudging” his claims and promised that he was “not going away”.

“Inappropriate behaviour” are you sure about that @YorkshireCCC ??

You carry on playing with your words & fudging this best way possible

ITS NOT GOING AWAY!! #EnoughIsEnough https://t.co/W80VZt3lA5

— Azeem Rafiq (@AzeemRafiq30)

August 19, 2021

The ECB said that it was awaiting a copy of the report and commended Rafiq his “bravery”, while noting its “concern” that some of the allegations were upheld.

Prior to the release of Yorkshire’s statement, Rafiq told Sky Sports News that the process had been “incredibly tough” on his mental health, and that he had found himself in the same “dark places” he had been when suffering the alleged abuse.

September 2021 – Summarised version of findings published – ECB ‘concerned’

In September a summary of the panel’s findings and recommendations was finally published, with Yorkshire admitting Rafiq was the victim of “racial harassment” and “bullying” during his time at the club.

However, just seven of the 43 allegations made by Rafiq were upheld and Yorkshire said it was not possible to determine conclusively that there is institutional racism within the club and maintained they do not intend to publish the full report.

Rafiq told Sky Sports News that he was “not happy” with the county’s latest actions and would “fight on” with the hope of having the full report published.

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Nasser Hussain said Rafiq ‘deserved his own day’, after Yorkshire revealed details of their investigation on the same day that the final Test between England and India was cancelled.

Nasser Hussain said Rafiq ‘deserved his own day’, after Yorkshire revealed details of their investigation on the same day that the final Test between England and India was cancelled.

The ECB said the independent panel’s findings were “very concerning” and would decide after examining the contents in more detail “what further action is required”.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport demanded “action” against those found guilty of racism against Rafiq, and condemned Yorkshire for showing a “lack of genuine contrition”, while also demanding that Rafiq see a full copy of the report.

There timing of the release of the report was described as “atrocious” by a spokesperson for Rafiq, with it coming on the same morning that England’s fifth Test with India was called off just hours before play was due to start.

October 2021 – No disciplinary action to be taken by Yorkshire

The following month Yorkshire announced it would take no disciplinary action against any of its employees, players or executives following the report.

The county said its own internal investigation had concluded “that there is no conduct or action taken by any of its employees, players or executives that warrants disciplinary action”.

Rafiq described the decision as “inconceivable” and accused Yorkshire of protecting its members of staff, writing on Twitter that the club was “embarrassing”, and accusing it of giving a “green light” to racism.

Wow just when you think this club couldn’t get more embarrassing you find a way

????

Still awaiting the FULL report

Thanks for mentioning the people that have provided your PROTECTION & given green light to RACISM

Interesting timing again ? https://t.co/p1wAyjqU6R

— Azeem Rafiq (@AzeemRafiq30)

October 28, 2021

Rafiq, who had by this point received a heavily redacted version of the report, said he was still awaiting the full version, and called up the ECB to “sort this before I do”.

The ECB said it had on this day received the full report and would consider it, but warned that “it will take time for the regulatory process to reach its conclusion”.

November 2021 – Report details leak, Yorkshire face widespread backlash

Alleged details of the report were published by ESPNcricinfo, including a senior player’s admission that he had repeatedly used the word “P***” in reference to Rafiq, which was subsequently deemed to be “in the spirit of friendly banter”.

The claim that such blatantly racist language had been found in the report and Yorkshire had opted not to take action resulted in a major backlash.

Health secretary Sajid Javid said “heads should roll” at the county, while prime minister Boris Johnson called for the England and Wales Cricket Board to investigate “thoroughly and quickly”.

Given the endemic racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, I struggle to think of any reason why that the board should remain in post. This is one of the most repellent and disturbing episodes in modern cricket history.

— Julian Knight MP (@julianknight15)

November 2, 2021

The ECB promised it will conduct a full regulatory process as “quickly as possible”, and apologised for not resolving the issue sooner, saying it was “conscious about the length of time that Azeem has waited for resolution and the toll that must be taking on his wellbeing and that of his family”.

It was confirmed that Hutton will be called to face the parliamentary DCMS committee, whose chair Julian Knight called for the removal of the entire county board and said “this is one of the most repellent and disturbing episodes in modern cricket history”.

What’s next? Rafiq to give evidence to DCMS

Rafiq, along with Hutton, will be among those called to give attendance to the DCMS committee hearing on November 16. The county’s chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon will also be questioned.

Unlike with his public statements to this point, Rafiq will be protected by parliamentary privilege, meaning he is immune from the threat of civil or criminal proceedings relating to what he says and can therefore name individuals mentioned in his initial allegations and the report.

Over the last 14 months I have told both @PCA & @ECB_cricket that someone needs to show leadership & take this out of @YorkshireCCC hands

No one believed me, no one listened everyone tried to protect themselves and left me all alone to fight

TIME FOR THE FULL TRUTH

— Azeem Rafiq (@AzeemRafiq30)

November 2, 2021

Meanwhile, Rafiq’s legal claim against the county remains unresolved. The private Case Management Conference the county said it expected has yet to take place.

Yorkshire are also facing pressure on a commercial level. The Emerald publishing group – a primary sponsor of the county, which held naming rights at Headingley – have ended their association with the club, while the Danish food company Arla who sponsor the club’s 50-over team have said they will not renew their deal.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Yorkshire had yet to comment on the alleged details of the report.

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