Azeem Rafiq will give evidence in person to MPs into a report about allegations of racism he made against Yorkshire; former team-mate and ex-England batsman Gary Ballance has admitted using a racial slur towards Rafiq
Last Updated: 04/11/21 11:05am
Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain discuss the fallout from the Azeem Rafiq investigation following allegations of racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club
Former England Test captains Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain discuss the fallout from the Azeem Rafiq investigation into allegations of racism and how cricket can improve in tackling discrimination.
Michael Atherton: How big a crisis is this for Yorkshire?
Nasser Hussain: It is a huge crisis, one of the biggest crises they have gone through in their long history. Most of it is of their own making; the delays, the time they have taken to address the situation that Azeem Rafiq reported to them years ago has been unbelievable really. They even put it out [the findings of an independent report] when the Old Trafford Test match was called off, some of their findings, which I thought was a good day to bury bad news as it was. That sort of way of doing things. Even since then with the ECB, they have put snippets out and the ECB only got the report months after they wanted it. Now, yesterday a lot has come out and it is not good reading for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, its players and members and rightly so. Sponsors are starting to pull out of that club. It is a bad week, month and year for Yorkshire but it is also a bad time for English cricket and the ECB, surely now the ball is in their court. Surely the ECB have to do something about it.
MA: You have broadened it out because the ECB and their players have had a very public anti-discrimination stance and the south Asian project has been at the heart of what the ECB have said they are trying to do over the last 2-3 years.
NA: I completely believe the ECB is trying to do that. I come from a south Asian community in Essex and I know what Essex are trying to do in that community. I have seen what England are trying to do. Their players on Saturday will be taking a knee against South Africa. We have been at Headingley where their players have stood there with T-shirts on with ‘We stand against racism’. You can’t have that and then have a club who in their own findings said that Azeem Rafiq was a victim of bullying and racial harassment. They put that out on that day at Old Trafford and then put out [last week] that we are not going to do anything about it, we are not going to hold anyone accountable to that. Those two things for me in particular do not marry together at all in any way. You can’t have one without the other. The ECB have to have a look at this and come down strongly on it.
Rafiq case – how cricket reached crisis point
A timeline of how former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of institutional racism against the club have finally attracted national attention.
MA: It seems to me there are two aspects to it. One is what actually happened which is quite difficult to comment upon because as you say only a handful of people have seen the unredacted report. I understand only a handful of people at Yorkshire and the ECB have seen that. The second part of it is how Yorkshire have handled it as that report has started to dribble out. Have Yorkshire brought this upon themselves by their rather tone-deaf and tin-eared response?
NH: I think so. I think the comment the other day … the tone-deaf response and using the P-word as banter [in Yorkshire’s report]. There is no way that the P-word in a dressing room can be used as banter. I just want to broaden this out. The whole point of doing this [interview] is that we have been there and we have experienced the situation. We have been in county and international dressing rooms where it is ‘open season’ on everything where you are slightly different. Whether you have ginger hair, you are slightly overweight, shorter than the rest, you have a bigger nose than the rest, you know that it is open season and the banter, mickey-taking that goes on in that dressing room. But I think there is a line that you cross, that at some stage someone has to say ‘hold on that is not acceptable, we don’t do that in our dressing room’. Whether it comes from the individual who has been racially harassed as Yorkshire have admitted and he says ‘don’t say that to me’. That is quite difficult to do because you want to fit in, you want to be part of the mickey-taking, everything that goes on and you don’t make a stand. Whether it be a team-mate who stands up and says don’t say that to him, whether it be a captain that says it is not acceptable or a club and this is why they [Yorkshire] messed it up the first time when it actually happened. No one had the guts to stand up and say we are not doing this in this dressing room. They messed it up for years after by not picking out people who used that terminology and they are still messing it up now when they had an option to say we have changed and we will not accept this sort of behaviour. They continued to mess it up and almost by Yorkshire saying that it is just banter they are sending the message all the way through their age groups that it is okay to say ‘you lot’ and that corner shop must belong to your uncle and things like that. They are sending a message that that sort of mickey-taking is absolutely fine. It is not.
Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq will give evidence to MPs later this month regarding his allegations of racism at Yorkshire, as Sky Sports News reporter James Cole explains
MA: The next stage of this is a parliamentary inquiry. Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton has been called and it sounds like Azeem Rafiq will get his opportunity in that inquiry as well. There is one key thing about a DCMS inquiry is that there will be parliamentary privilege. All the way through this Yorkshire have said they cannot speak openly and truthfully, they can’t release the unredacted report for fear of legal reprisals which will not be the case when they sit down in front of this parliamentary inquiry. This has to be a good thing for both the club in a sense and for Azeem Rafiq because what has been lacking throughout all this is the kind of transparency that people want to see.
NH: Absolutely, and I know that is why we haven’t commented on it out here [at the T20 World Cup] because we weren’t in that dressing room. We don’t know what was happening, we don’t like to comment on rumours. We have not read the report. To a degree it is probably going to be what the situation needs is that people have to be honest and have to come out and say what happened. But obviously, there is going to be a lot of mudslinging as well. With that is going to come, he said, she said, what happened and what didn’t happen. It is not going to be a great week or month for cricket. I think it is going to be a month that cricket needs to go through so that we can finally find out exactly what that situation was and also people involved at that time. And it is very difficult because you want to back up your team-mates and you want to have a context to things years down the line but I do think it is important on both sides of this actually that people do speak up for Azeem Rafiq. If you firmly believe that Azeem Rafiq was racially discriminated against and you were in that dressing room I feel please speak up about it to back him up because he has been through so much, he has waited so patiently for people to back him up. But also the flip side of that, Gary Ballance will be in a very dark place at the moment and if you do believe you have got something to say to back up his argument and give it some context then you say that as well. Do you disagree, I do think people need to speak and get some kind of truth out of this.
Former England cricketer Gary Ballance has issued a lengthy statement in which he explains his regret at using a racial slur against ex-Yorkshire teammate Azeem Rafiq, as Sky Sports News reporter James Cole reports
MA: That is why I said it should be good for both sides; for the club and the player. Because what has been lacking so far is honesty and transparency. I hope the questioning is rigorous but I hope it is fair as well because the MP who called Roger Hutton to the inquiry the other day seemed to slightly pre-judge matters. What you just want is open, fair and rigorous questioning so that the truth can come out because as you say the innuendo will be hanging over every player and every coach who has been at Yorkshire. I think for the good of the club and for the good of Azeem Rafiq the truth needs to come out.
NH: But also and you feel there will be a bit of mudslinging in there. I know Azeem has already started tweeting, people are starting to…
MA: There will be mudslinging both ways. I think the game has to be grown up enough to accept a bit of mudslinging in the sense that if that helps the truth come out and it helps the process to be far more transparent than it has been that can only be a good thing. I think the biggest thing that has frustrated me throughout this, and there has been some excellent journalism, [is] there has been a lot of comment having not seen the report. So few people have seen the full unredacted report and what I hope comes out of this inquiry is just far greater transparency.
NH: Do you also agree with the point I made… I just want to say that again, I am not downplaying it in any way at all about a county dressing room, an international dressing room that you need an environment, and I am not saying that it is right or wrong, I remember Marcus Trescothick came into the England side and after about six months Marcus was amazed and he knocked on mine and Duncan (Fletcher)’s door and said ‘can I have a word with you skip?’ I am amazed by the amount of mickey-taking that goes on on cricket matters. On cricket matters when someone drops a catch or someone has a shocker they come in the dressing room and everyone takes the mick out of them. Can we stop that? It suddenly hit me, yeah, even if someone has had a bad day at cricket we take the mick out of them. So do you agree that was going on, that needs to change and do you think there is a line that you cross and you should be picked up on in a dressing room environment?
MA: Clearly, times change, context is important. Leadership is vital. I think there is a point at whichever time you are at where good leadership draws a line under things and makes people aware of other people within the dressing room are uncomfortable or feeling under pressure by whatever is said. Leadership is absolutely vital. Attention will probably turn on the leadership of Yorkshire out of all this and we wait and see what comes of it.
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
NH: That is my point, at that time when it was happening no one said stop. A year later, two years later no one said stop and then when the review was going on no one has said stop. I repeat again that was the most disappointing thing out of the Yorkshire statement a few days ago. Having decided that Rafiq had been a victim of bullying and racial harassment there was still no sort of we got that wrong, we need to have a look at ourselves, we really need to apologise to Azeem Rafiq and all the way through this we got it wrong. If Yorkshire hasn’t done it then surely the ECB need to stand up. They did it with Ollie Robinson, that was a historical thing, that is when a teenage boy got it wrong and made those historical tweets that are not acceptable. They banned him, put him out of the game. It must have been a dark few months for him but he has come back from that. I just hope the ECB applies the same standards to Yorkshire County Cricket Club that they do to Ollie Robinson or anyone in their system.
MA: It is a dark time, few weeks for the game in that sense but part of a broader conversation that is happening across society. Do you see an easy way through the mess for the game? If the parliamentary inquiry proves to be transparent and the truth comes out do you see any easy way beyond that for the game?
NH: I think the only good that could come out of it is that every cricketer, sportsman, maybe every individual has a look at themselves and changes the way that they do behave and do realise that words can hurt and how much you laugh it off at the time. What you say is important. There is a change taking place, it will take time but it is probably something that English cricket needs to go through because for a long time… We do keep asking ourselves where… Every time India play Pakistan in England and all those crowds come flocking in, every year we have [questions such as] why is the ECB not doing more for our British south Asian community? The things that Ebony (Rainford-Brent) and Butch (Mark Butcher) are doing with the ACE programme. Butch’s excellent programme this summer, where have the British West Indian cricketers gone, why aren’t they coming through, the ones we played with. Well, this stuff that is going on now might give you a reason why they are not coming through. If at the head of Yorkshire County Cricket Club you can just say it is banter, it is just a bit of a laugh that spreads all the way through the system that people will just think it is just a laugh we can take the mick, say your dad owns the corner shop and stuff like that. You have got to make people feel included, inclusive as if it is their team and they are not on the outside and hopefully that can happen in the months ahead.