LONDON: A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq fighting back tears while testifying in front of a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee in London yesterday as MPs probe racial harassment at the club. – AFP

LONDON: Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq fought back tears as he told British lawmakers yesterday he had “lost my career to racism”, detailing widespread discrimination within the English game in an emotional testimony. An independent report found the Pakistan-born player was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” while playing for the county club, with Rafiq himself revealing he had been driven to thoughts of suicide.

Although Yorkshire apologized, they said they would take no disciplinary action against any staff — a decision the former player told MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee left him “staggered”. “I felt, isolated, humiliated at times,” Rafiq told the hearing in London. “Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian background… there were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant-washers’. The word ‘Paki’ was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”

Rafiq, who is a Muslim, also recounted a frightening experience of being forced to drink alcohol at the age of 15 as a club player in Yorkshire. “I got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat, literally down my throat,” he said. Rafiq, whose wife gave birth to a stillborn child in 2018, added that his two young children “have not had a dad really because all I’ve been worried about is Yorkshire going after me… I just hope that today provides some kind of closure.” His voice breaking again towards the end of his testimony, the 30-year-old Rafiq, who had two spells at the club, said: “Do I believe I lost my career to racism? Yes, I do.”

‘Box-ticking’
And Rafiq warned that racial prejudice within English cricket was not solely an issue at Yorkshire, saying it was replicated “up and down the country”. “I’ve had messages from people who have played at Leicestershire, a guy who played at Middlesex, messages from people who played at Nottinghamshire,” he said. He labelled diversity initiatives by the England and Wales Cricket Board as examples of “box-ticking” and “tokenism”.

The fallout for Yorkshire — one of England’s most successful and historic clubs — over the scandal has been swift and devastating. Sponsors have pulled out and the club has been suspended from hosting lucrative international matches. Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton and chief executive Mark Arthur both resigned, with head coach Andrew Gale suspended for using a racial slur. Subsequent allegations of racism have been made by other players, setting in motion additional investigations at Yorkshire and other clubs as the scandal spreads across English cricket.

On Monday, current England spinner Adil Rashid joined ex-Pakistan Test player Rana Naved-ul-Hasan in alleging that former England Test captain Michael Vaughan had said in front of a group of Yorkshire players of Asian ethnicity in 2009: “Too many of you lot, we need to do something about it.” Vaughan has “categorically” denied making the comment. Asked about Vaughan, Rafiq said: “Michael might not remember it… three of us, Adil, myself and Rana remember it. “He clearly had a snippet of my statement. He used his platform at the Daily Telegraph to tell everyone he hadn’t said these things. To go on and put a snippet of my statement out and talk about other things, I thought was completely wrong.”

New Yorkshire chairman Kamlesh Patel told the committee he was prepared to take “whatever decisions I need to take”. “This is an organization that’s been hammered left, right and center, maybe for the right reasons,” he said. “Changes are going to have to be made and it’s not going to be overnight, but we have got to move on it, really quickly and really hard.” – AFP