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The battle for the soul of English cricket – Audio Long Reads

When the former Yorkshire bowler Azeem Rafiq blew the whistle on racism in cricket, resignations and inquiries followed. Has anything changed?

By Emma John

On 16 November 2021, Azeem Rafiq testified to parliament about his experiences of racism while playing for Yorkshire County Cricket Club. The off-spinner and former England youth captain said that, between 2008 and 2018, he had been repeatedly subjected to racial slurs, excluded and portrayed as a troublemaker. The fallout was catastrophic, at Yorkshire and across the professional game, with high-profile resignations and inquiries announced. Earlier this summer, the entire board of Cricket Scotland resigned on the eve of a report that upheld allegations of institutional racism.

Three decades after the notorious “Tebbit test” – when the Conservative minister Norman Tebbit suggested nationhood could be determined by whether someone of Asian heritage supports England – why is cricket still unable to deal with questions about identity and inclusion?

In this revealing and deeply reported piece, Emma John follows the fortunes of a grassroots team in London, and attends the last Eton vs Harrow match to be held at Lord’s, the “home of cricket”, as the sport attempts to rapidly diversify. She catches up with Rafiq and the scouts who decide which players make the leap into the professional game. As John writes, “English cricket has long been a refuge for a certain kind of conservative, a panic room padded with a fantasy of a vanished country.” Can it change? Do its gatekeepers really want it to?

This article originally appeared in the New Statesman‘s 29 July-18 August 2021 summer special. You can read the text version here.

Written and read by Emma John, a freelance sport and travel writer.

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