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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Azeem Rafiq speaks out against return of Colin Graves’ to Yorkshire County Cricket Club: “the whole game is telling us loud and clear it doesn’t want people like us”

Former Yorkshire player highlights deep-rooted issues and calls for genuine change in the sport

In a scathing critique of the Yorkshire Cricket Club’s recent decision to reappoint Colin Graves as chairman, former player Azeem Rafiq has unleashed a wave of criticism, highlighting systemic issues within the sport.

The Yorkshire Cricket Club faced severe consequences in 2020, including a £400,000 fine, suspension from hosting international cricket, and the loss of several sponsors, following Rafiq’s allegations. However, the recent approval of Colin Graves’ return by the Yorkshire Board has triggered deep-seated emotions for Rafiq, who described the situation as “incredibly triggering” and a setback to his efforts to move forward.

Rafiq, a whistleblower who previously exposed direct discrimination and harassment within the club in 2020, expressed profound disappointment at the lack of consideration and care from cricket authorities. He remarked, “These last few days have been triggering from a few different points of view. One is the lack of care from cricket people. The way this has been green-lighted by the ECB and the Professional Cricketers Association. The Yorkshire Board has a lot to answer for.”

The Yorkshire Board’s approval of Graves’ return has reignited painful memories for Rafiq, who described the situation as “incredibly sad” and “triggering.” He questioned the lack of alternative options for Yorkshire County Cricket Club and called for tangible support from the ECB, urging them to step in with financial aid to prevent the club from going into receivership. Rafiq also questioned the timing of the decision, suggesting it was part of a calculated plan. “From the information I have seen, this has been a plan all along. The fact that it dropped on Christmas Eve, that’s no coincidence to anyone who understands the PR and media landscape.” Rafiq told Asian Standard.

In the meantime, while denying any takeover, Colin Graves claims he is looking to invest, to refinance and restructure the club.

The integrity of Graves is under scrutiny, especially given his previous comments equating racism to banter. Despite the controversies surrounding Graves, the Yorkshire Board has approved a loan offer that sets the stage for his return as chairman.

Colin Graves Image ECB

Graves has since put out a statement apologising “personally and unreservedly” to anyone who experienced racism at the club.

He said: “Discrimination or abuse based on race, ethnicity or any other protected characteristic is not and never will be acceptable.

“I profoundly regret some of the language I used when asked about the events that took place when I was chairman, at a time when I was no longer at the club. I understand and sympathise with those who regard my comments as dismissive or uncaring.

“I am determined to do whatever is required to ensure Yorkshire County Cricket Club continues to reflect the communities it represents. The club cannot and will not succeed unless it is united in its commitment to meet the highest professional standards, on and off the field.

“I want to make it clear that we accept the findings of the report carried out by the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) and its recommendations. If I am confirmed as chairman, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work that has been carried out over the last two years will continue.

“I hope that new and older members, former players, commercial sponsors and broadcasters will work with us to ensure that everyone connected with Yorkshire Cricket is proud to be associated with the club.”

Rafiq, expressed his disappointment, stating Graves needs to make bigger commitments than just a sorry.

Rafiq’s words have been echoed by Sporting Equals, a charity advocating for ethnic diversity in UK sport. In an open letter addressed to the sports minister Stuart Andrew, the ECB, professional County Cricket Clubs, and their sponsors the independent body expressed serious concerns. While acknowledging recent efforts to combat racism in cricket, particularly in response to Azeem Rafiq’s revelations, the charity sees the potential reinstatement of Colin Graves as chairman of Yorkshire County Cricket Club as a threat to the progress made.

The letter emphasises that Graves’ reinstatement would undermine the strides taken against racism, sending a message that trivialises the issue and disregards the findings of the ICEC Report. The charity urges the ECB, County Cricket Clubs, and sponsors, with the support of the sports minister, to implement specific measures before the 2024 summer season. These measures include establishing an Independent Fit and Proper Persons Test for club ownership, implementing a robust disqualification process, providing mandatory inclusive behaviour training for club leadership, and ensuring the publication of annual reports on equality, diversity, and inclusion policies.

Expressing his frustration and disillusionment, Rafiq stated, “I don’t feel I have any attachment to the club anymore – it’s not my club anymore. That cap of mine that I held so much pride with – it’s not something that has any importance in my life anymore.” Rafiq highlighted the significant toll the controversies have taken on his family, recounting death threats, attacks on his home, and his decision to leave the country.

In a poignant moment, Rafiq emphasised the harsh reality for South Asians and people of colour in cricket, stating, “This is a clear message straight loud and clear – to me, to other South Asians, to people of colour that cricket is not a safe place for us.”

Azeem Rafiq parliament

Despite his efforts to bring about change, Rafiq expressed a sense of despair. “If after the ICC report, we’re still trying to say listen to us listen to us – I think people are showing us that they don’t want to listen to us. They don’t want us, apart from when it suits their agendas – then I think we have to decide whether we want them.”

Addressing the toll on his mental health, Rafiq revealed, “It took me close to taking my own life – when I spoke about it, no stone has been left unturned to actually take me all the way there. That’s the reality of what cricket has done and continues to do – And it’s triggering.”

As the Yorkshire County Cricket Club faces a crucial vote on the proposed emergency funding offer, the broader cricketing community awaits the outcome. Rafiq remains resolute, stating, “I will continue to do what I feel is right and if that makes people uncomfortable, that’s not my problem. We don’t want the crumbs anymore.

He questions: “Are things changing? It’s all smoke and mirrors. Not a lot has changed – that’s the reality. What happens is and this is a cycle. We’ve seen this before, we’ve seen it with the Met Police, and we keep seeing it. There’s a reason why institutions don’t change because you have this big outrage. Everyone has suddenly found their moral compass – we must do this. We must do that – an action plan and then everyone’s forgotten.

“On the week of my DCMS, ECB all the County’s, everyone, all gathered at the Oval. I remember Tom Harrison did a press conference with Richard Thomson (who’s now the new chair) stood in the background I can’t remember what he said, but it was something like, this is a massive emergency for the game, blah blah blah. We’re going to do a dressroom culture review. Where’s the dressroom culture review?

“Where’s the report? The report is so bad, that it’s stuck in the ECB office – no one is putting them under pressure to get that out. Yorkshire whistleblowing hotline spent one point whatever million on it – where’s the report? The guy who is running the whistleblowing hotline is going to Diwali events at the club and he hasn’t released the report yet. If Eid events were going to sort out institutional racism, we would have sorted it out a long time ago?”

The controversy surrounding Yorkshire Cricket Club underscores the ongoing challenges in making cricket a game that truly welcomes and embraces diversity.

 

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