Support 100 years of independent journalism.

Y is for Yorkshire cricket: A racism scandal at one of England’s most successful county clubs rocked the cricketing establishment

Former professional cricketer Azeem Rafiq blew the whistle on racist abuse at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

By Harry Clarke-Ezzidio

England’s cricketing establishment faced a reckoning when the ex-professional cricketer Azeem Rafiq gave testimony to MPs detailing the racism he faced at Yorkshire County Cricket Club (CCC), one of England’s most famous sporting institutions.

Rafiq played at Yorkshire for the majority of his career, at both youth and professional level, between 2008 and 2018. It was two years later, in September 2020, when he first spoke out about the “institutional racism” he encountered at the club – which left him close to taking his own life.

“The word ‘P**i’ was used constantly… and no one ever stamped it out,” he told a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hearing in November. “All I wanted to do is play cricket.”

Rafiq’s revelations, which included allegations of racism against the former England and Yorkshire captain Michael Vaughan (which he “totally denies”), rocked the cricketing world – and an independent investigation on behalf of Yorkshire into Rafiq’s experiences was commissioned. 

The report was begrudgingly released, and upheld seven of the 43 claims made by Rafiq. The Health Secretary Sajid Javid called for “heads to roll” – and they did. In the fallout, Roger Hutton resigned from his role as chairman of Yorkshire CCC, Mark Arthur resigned as chief executive, and head coach Andrew Gale was suspended as part of an investigation into a tweet containing an anti-Semitic slur he sent in 2010.

While Rafiq’s testimony shocked many in the game and beyond, the language, though harrowing, was the tip of the iceberg in his case. The isolating aura he experienced spoke to the more covert, insidious ways prejudice manifests: Rafiq’s not sharing the club’s “White Rose values” and “problematic” attitude in the dressing room, according to an anonymous letter sent by club staff, reeked of the ostracism that many people in minority groups, rich and poor, experience.

Anonymous briefing against him to less sympathetic newspapers started trickling out almost as soon as he began blowing the whistle on abuse by fellow players and the permissiveness of the club.

Content from our partners
Why public health policy needs to refocus
The five key tech areas for the public sector in 2023
You wouldn’t give your house keys to anyone, so why do that with your computers?

Shortly after his testimony, another story involving Rafiq broke: screenshots of messages, in which he made offensive and derogatory comments about Jewish people, had surfaced. He apologised, saying he was 19 at the time and was a “different person today”.

Kamlesh Patel, the new president of Yorkshire CCC, has apologised to Rafiq and hailed his “bravery” as a whistleblower. And since both stories broke, Rafiq has been labelled many things: a “hero” by some, and “hypocrite” by others.

Whatever his public reception, the scandal acts as a reminder that though the scourge of racism – whether in cricket or society at large – may often be out of sight, it is not always out of the minds of some.

Yet the case also exposed the grim public ordeal of those with the courage to speak out about it.

As Jonathan Liew, writing in the New Statesman, put it: “Unless we as a public and we as a media are prepared to scrutinise racist behaviour beyond the superficial level of incidents and language, the next whistleblower may well decide it really isn’t worth the trouble.”

Find the other entries in the New Statesman A-Z of 2021 here.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Topics in this article: , ,