Yorkshire Cricket Club admits Muslim player was victim of racism and bullying

Yorkshire Cricket Club, Headingley. Editorial credit: Duncan Cuthbertson

Yorkshire Cricket Club has admitted that one of its former players, Azeem Rafiq, was the victim of racial harassment and bullying during his time at the club.

An investigation concluded that Rafiq was racially abused by former players and a coach who have not been named. Jokes were also made about Islam, the report said, and Muslims should have been made to feel more welcome in the stadium.

The report by international law firm Squire Patton Boggs said: “In September 2020, the club received a number of allegations of racism made by former player Azeem Rafiq spanning back to 2008… The report shows that there were in excess of 40 allegations made against the club by Azeem Rafiq. The majority were not upheld, and some were not upheld on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence. However, seven of Azeem Rafiq’s allegations were upheld.

“There is no question that Azeem Rafiq, during his first spell as a player at YCCC, was the victim of racial harassment. He was also subsequently the victim of bullying. On behalf of all at YCCC (Yorkshire County Cricket Club), I wish to extend my sincere, profound and unreserved apologies to Azeem and to his family…

“When Azeem Rafiq was playing junior cricket for Yorkshire, he was not provided with halal food at matches. This has now been rectified. Prior to 2010 the panel found that there were three separate incidents of racist language being used by former players which were found to be harassment on the grounds of race. Before 2012 a former coach regularly used racist language.

“During his second spell at Yorkshire between 2016 and 2018 there were jokes made around religion which made individuals uncomfortable about their religious practices. During his second spell at the club, a former player made references to Azeem Rafiq’s weight and fitness that amounted to bullying.

Azeem Rafiq

“In August 2018, when Azeem Rafiq raised concerns of racism there was a failure by the club to follow its own policy or investigate these allegations. Finally, that on a number of occasions prior to 2018 the club could have done more to make Muslims more welcome within their stadiums and should have dealt better with complaints of racist or anti-social behaviour within those stadiums.”

However, the report concluded that “there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is institutionally racist. It did not find that any decisions by the coaching staff or the club, relating either to Azeem’s inclusion within a team or his ultimate release from the club was for anything other than cricketing reasons.

“There were a great many people at the club who cared deeply for Azeem and who worked extremely hard over a long period to develop and assist him, both personally and professionally, and who celebrated his successes and championed him at the club. And there were others that worked exceptionally hard with him on his cricket, particularly when he struggled for form.

“Both the current and previous management have worked hard over many years to improve engagement within the diverse communities within Yorkshire. It is a matter of sincere regret that the good work of so many people at the club – both with Azeem and in our efforts to build an inclusive and welcoming cricket club representing the best of all of Yorkshire – is at risk of being overshadowed by the behaviour and remarks of a few people.”

Azeem Rafiq welcomed the club’s admission that he was the victim of racism and bullying but said the report should have also found them guilty of institutional racism.

A spokesman for Azeem Rafiq said: “We note that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has confirmed Azeem was the victim of racism and bullying during his two spells at Headingley. However, we must highlight the atrocious way this process continues to be handled.

“Azeem was not given notice of this morning’s statement – he received a copy only a couple of minutes before the media. Azeem and his team are not in a position to properly understand the club’s conclusions and how they reached them because Yorkshire has not provided a copy of the report. This is clearly unacceptable and an abuse of process.

“What is clear is that Yorkshire County Cricket Club admits racism and bullying has taken place on many occasions yet won’t accept the obvious that – this is an institutional problem.”

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