Ex-England cricketer Gary Ballance admits using racial slur against Azeem Rafiq while at Yorkshire

Azeem Rafiq said he was driven to tears from racial abuse he suffered while playing at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, ITV News North of England Reporter Sangita Lal reports

Former England cricketer Gary Ballance has admitted levelling a racial slur at his Yorkshire County Cricket Club teammate Azeem Rafiq, but claimed that the pair often made offensive comments to eachother in jest.

Ballance, who played 23 Tests and 16 one-day internationals between 2013-2017, released a long and emotional statement on Wednesday during which he accepted he was responsible for some of the offensive and derogatory terms that Rafiq revealed he was subjected to while at Headingley.

The 31-year-old attempted to offer some context of his “incredibly close relationship” with Rafiq during their time together at the club, claiming both men “said things privately to each other which were not acceptable” but made it clear he had remorse for his part in those exchanges.

He wrote: “It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent enquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so. To be clear – I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years.

“I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate."

Ballance said he regretted the exchanges, but did not believe they had caused Rafiq distress.

Azeem Rafiq playing for Yorkshire

"If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately. He was my best mate in cricket and I cared deeply for him. To my knowledge, it has never been alleged that I reduced Rafa to tears,” he said.

Rafiq's allegations against the club have been in the public domain for more than a year, but recent reports that a racial slur was dismissed as "friendly banter" has ramped up pressure for the club to respond.

On Wednesday, Emerald Group Publishing, primary commercial partners who held naming rights to Headingley Stadium, and Yorkshire Tea followed shirt sponsors Anchor Butter in ending their association with the team. It comes as a group of more than 30 Yorkshire politicians - including former Labour leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves - have written to the England and Wales Cricket Board demanding an independent inquiry.

ITV News has contacted Rafiq for comment on Ballance's statement.