Chairman of Yorkshire County Cricket Club Lord Kamlesh Patel told MP’s staff had been told to take their shirts off in the street because it was deemed racist.
One of several cricket club leaders asked to give evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, he also admitted he’d felt uncomfortable in day one of his new job.
This all comes in the light of former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq blowing the whistle on his experience of racism at the club.
Lord Patel added: “From nine weeks ago when I first walked in, it fundamentally feels different.
“Walking through the corridors every day, I enjoy going to work, I enjoy seeing people, I enjoy speaking to them. That wasn’t the case on day one.
“So fundamentally we are changing but there’s a long way to go. I think the foundations are in place, the scaffolding is up, but to build a skyscraper is going to take time. But I’m very optimistic.”
Lord Patel was asked about his reasons for sacking 16 members of staff in one go including head coach Andrew Gale and director of cricket Martyn Moxon before Christmas.
He said: “This decision wasn’t taken lightly. I’m a social worker by profession, it’s really hard on a human level to let people go for things that happened.
“There was no doubt that we needed a fresh leadership in the organisation. People had been allowed to do things, there’d been a culture where you couldn’t challenge, or you couldn’t speak, or you felt that you couldn’t.
“It feels now members of staff come to me and say, ‘are you sure this is the right thing to do, can we tell you another way?’. I don’t think they had that in the past.”
The committee’s chairman Julian Knight questioned whether the decision had blighted the careers of those people sacked.
Lord Patel explained: “I feel everyone at the club feel their careers have been blighted if I’m honest and that’s the saddest part in all of this.
“Going in everyday seeing young men and women who are working their socks off but come February they might not have a job.
“It was sad to hear a young man say ‘I got a job in here serving tea and it was the day of my life getting the Yorkshire badge’ [but] he says he has to hide it now when he leaves.
“I’ve had members of staff who have been told in the street to take their Yorkshire shirts off because it’s racist.”
Asked when he thought international cricket would come back to Headingly he said: “The ECB have set us a very tough criteria, a 10-point action plan. We’ll submit all our evidence this month, then we will present it to the ECB on 1 February, then we will await a decision to see if we’ve met the criteria.”
Meanwhile Middlesex Chairman Mike O’Farrell was forced to apologise for his poor choice of words in trying to explain the problems around diversity.
He told the group: “57 per cent of the players we have at under-17 come from culturally diverse backgrounds.
“As we move up the chain, particularly as we get to the academy, we then find it becomes difficult for several reasons.
“In terms of the South Asian community there’s a moment where we’re finding that they do not want to commit necessarily the same time that is necessary to go to the next step because they prefer – not always saying they do it – they prefer to go into other educational fields where cricket becomes secondary.
“Part of that is because it is rather a more time-consuming sport than some others, so we’re finding that’s difficult.
“Now that’s changing, with Twenty20 and the one-day games, we are now finding that we are coming full circle because the game is getting more exposed.
“There’s much more choice, there’s much more variation in the games and therefore the South Asian community, young men and women – particularly women – are finding this a much more attractive sport.
“So, we are moving it forward. It’s not as fast as we’d like it to (be) and we’re trying to make as many opportunities as we can.”
In explaining his apology, he later added: “I was aiming to make the point that as a game, cricket has failed a generation of young cricketers, in systematically failing to provide them with the same opportunities that other sports and sectors so successfully provide.”
His earlier remarks sparked dismay from Azeem Rafiq who said in a tweet: “This has just confirmed what an endemic problem the game has. I actually can’t believe what I am listening to.”
Ebony Rainford-Brent, a director at Surrey and chair of the ACE Programme charity aiming to support diverse talent, also wrote on Twitter: “Honestly these outdated views in the game are exactly why we are in this position.
Lord Patel believes there should be a zero-tolerance policy to racism across the game of cricket. Yorkshire could find out if test cricket will return to the club next week.