A former player of Pakistani Muslim descent has accused his fellow players and associates at Essex County Cricket Club of racism when he played there between 2001 and 2004.
Zoheb Sharif, 38, started playing for ECCC at the age of eight. He said: “It was a day after the September 11 attacks. People started calling me bomber. Soon after they started calling me “curry muncher” and it was normalised at the Club.
“I didn’t say anything at the time. I was a teenager in a dressing room with big characters.
“To them it was banter. To me it wasn’t, but you don’t want to do anything to block your chance of getting into the first team,” Sharif told The Mirror.
Sharif’s revelations have come to light while Yorkshire County Cricket Club is under the spotlight for how they failed to deal with Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations at Headingley.
Sharif also alleges that he was not allowed to pray on the ground or elsewhere. He said: “As a Muslim, I’d find a quiet outfield corner to pray. I remember a senior player taking me to the side and saying ‘you can’t do that in front of everyone, you’ve got to do that away from everyone, it looks bad. So I prayed in my car.”
He recalled: “I was told ‘No matter what you do, you will never, ever play in the first team.’ But I was like, ‘I’m doing so well, I was like highest run-scorer in the whole country, why can’t I even get a look in?’ They said: ‘No matter how you do, you will never play’,” Sharif recalled.
“I remember sitting down towards the end of the season where I performed really well – I think the next best person was averaging in the 30s and I was in the 100s – and the only official reason I ever got was – ‘You will never play in the first team’,” he added.
ECCC on Saturday said they are encouraging former players, staff or anybody associated with the club to come forward if they have faced discrimination.
The club’s chief executive, John Stephenson, said in a statement: “I am extremely shocked and saddened to hear of historic racial allegations involving a former player, dating back to 2001. There is absolutely no place for discrimination of any kind at Essex County Cricket Club and we have a zero-tolerance policy towards racism.
“I immediately reached out to the former player to offer him my and Essex County Cricket Club’s full support and to encourage him to come forward and talk to myself and the Club about his experiences.
“We will put the right care in place for him and we applaud his bravery and courage for speaking out on such a sensitive issue after all these years.
“As a Chief Executive, I am committed to upholding the Club’s multicultural and diverse values. All allegations, regardless of when they took place, will be investigated thoroughly and urgently. We are working with the ECB to assist us with these investigations.
“There has never been a place, nor will there ever be a place, for any kind of prejudice at Essex County Cricket Club.”
A second player from the same county, Maurice Chambers, has also accused his former team mates of racism, which he claims he was subjected to for 10 years at the club.
In an interview with The Cricketer, Chambers said: “We had a team night out in Chelmsford. The other player got pretty drunk. When I got home, he threw a banana down the stairs and said: ‘Climb for it, you f**king monkey.’”
Chambers recalled how once a senior player offered him a banana and the coach started laughing. “It was humiliating. It was isolating. I never told anyone, but I would go home at the end of the day and cry”, he added.
An ECB spokesperson said in a statement: “The ECB is appalled by the behaviour that Maurice Chambers has described, of which no person should ever have to endure. There is absolutely no room for racism in cricket.
“We are sorry that Maurice has only been able to feel comfortable to speak out after his playing career had ended and as a game we must ensure that cannot prevail.
“We will be investigating this alongside the other allegations at Essex and applaud Maurice for his bravery in coming forward.”