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25 July 2022

The English Cricket Board is “not fit for purpose”, says Azeem Rafiq

The former Yorkshire player says nothing has changed since he made damning revelations of racism in the sport.

By Emma John

The former Yorkshire County cricket player Azeem Rafiq has called for a “total clear-out” of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Asked, in an interview with the New Statesman, if he felt that the sport’s governing body had taken meaningful action since his damning testimony about racism in cricket before parliament last year, he said: “The ECB is not fit for purpose, simple as that. We need a total clear-out. I said in January that the ECB needs a reset of its morals and values, and I firmly believe that nothing has changed. Cricket is too much of a boys’ network: we need structural change. We need government to get involved, and an independent regulator, because the game can’t be trusted to regulate itself.”

Yesterday (24 July) the entire board of Cricket Scotland resigned before the publication of an independent report which upheld charges of “institutional racism” within the sport and its governing body in the country. The outgoing directors issued an apology: “We are all truly sorry and have apologised publicly to everyone who has experienced racism, or any other form of discrimination, in cricket in Scotland.” The investigation, by Plan4Sport, a company that works on equality and inclusion, gathered the testimony of more than 200 people and was prompted in part by Rafiq’s revelations; Scotland’s leading wicket taker, Majid Haq, and Qasim Sheikh had raised similar allegations of racism and discrimination.

Rafiq, 31, a former England youth captain, spoke to the New Statesman for an article to be published in this week’s edition of the magazine about the wider impact of his testimony on the game. In the immediate aftermath of his appearance before the MPs of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on 16 November 2021, 16 members of Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s coaching staff were fired or resigned, and its chairman, Roger Hutton, resigned. Rafiq said that racist taunts were “used constantly” at the club and alleged a “toxic” atmosphere tolerated and fostered by its leadership.

The ECB’s chief executive, Tom Harrison, resigned in May and the former England women’s captain Clare Connor was appointed as his interim replacement.

The ECB has promised that the game is on the verge of meaningful change. A spokesperson told the New Statesman: “In November 2021, cricket committed to a wide-ranging set of actions to tackle racism, and promote inclusion and diversity. As well as bringing charges against Yorkshire CCC and a number of individuals, the ECB has introduced significant changes in leadership diversity, game-wide education programmes and a new partnership with Kick It Out. However, we know there is more work to do and the long-term impact will take time.”

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Later this year the ECB’s Independent Commission for Equity will report its findings. In May, Essex County Cricket Club received a £50,000 fine for racist language used by its then chairman at a 2017 meeting. A man was arrested after Indian fans reported racist abuse at Edgbaston during an England-India T20 game in July.

Rafiq said, however, that at a structural level not enough had changed since he first raised his complaints with Yorkshire in 2020. “We’re coming up to two years since I spoke out, and where we find the game, I think it’s embarrassing. The system always looks for excuses not to take action. There’s been an awful lot of lip service, and people are keener on covering themselves than on addressing the fundamental issues. This is about understanding where the game has gone wrong. I used to think that people just didn’t get it, but I’ve come to a different conclusion now. I think the leadership don’t want to get it.”

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[See also: The long shadows over English cricket]

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