Dismay, disgust, but not surprise as Asian community in Yorkshire reacts to Azeem Rafiq fallout

Azeem Rafiq was the victim of racial harassment and bullying during his first spell at Yorkshire Cricket Club. Credit: PA Images
  • By Shakir Ahmed, ITV News producer

For any sporting institution, the financial impact of losing sponsors would be hard enough to bear. However, for an organisation that prides itself on its history as well as its roots in the local community, the current scandal enveloping Yorkshire Cricket Club couldn't be more damaging.

Through its Yorkshire Cricket Foundation, the official charity and community arm of the club, YCCC aims to deliver community projects across the county that make "a lasting, positive impact on the lives of those living in Yorkshire".

Despite those best intentions, the lasting impact from the handling of the Azeem Rafiq case among some members of the community couldn't be more damaging. ITV News has spoken to locals involved with cricket, as well as ex-players who have previously played for Yorkshire CCC, and many have reacted with disgust at the way the issue has been managed.

For some, the allegations at the centre of the Rafiq case come as no surprise. One ex-academy player who did not want his name mentioned, told ITV News: "I was a captain of Yorkshire from under 11 until under 21’s, including two years on a scholarship with Yorkshire Academy from age 15 to 17, from early on it was clear there was a ‘Yorkshire way’ and culture which basically was intolerant of anything different in terms of race or religion." 

Azeem Rafiq said he was driven to tears from racial abuse he suffered while playing at Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Credit: PA Images

"When I was 11, one coach openly stated in front of me and a couple of other British Asian players that that ‘we need to be careful at the club coz there’s too many p**** coming through’.

"It wasn’t often this blatant, it was more subtle - a constant chirping or reminder that we were different and not really ‘Yorkshire men.’ In training before and after matches we would be split into teams for a game of football or touch rugby and in my age group it would be ‘us’ (the Asians) against the 'English' players with the coaches watching on. It was demoralising." 

The effect it had on him took its toll.

"To be honest we became immune to the little jibes and the culture that was prevalent, but I know it took its effect on me and made me leave the game completely aged 21. As I got older it seemed to get worse not better. 

"When I read about Azeem Rafiq's experiences it was like reliving my own experiences. It didn’t surprise me at all as this was just standard Yorkshire."

Those involved with cricket away from the club are also clear about the impact. Khalid Rehman, who owns a cricket sports business in Bradford, sums up the depth of feeling among many members of the Asian community in Yorkshire.

Khalid Rehman believes the Rafiq case highlights a wider epidemic of systemic racism in the county. Credit: Khalid Rehman

He says: "How can the county still have the employee working for them who was involved in the racial abuse Azeem Rafiq received whilst representing the county? Why have the ECB not done anything about it and how embarrassing is it for the county to have one of its employees call Azeem Rafiq a p*** and brush it under the carpet as banter?"

Worryingly for Yorkshire, when asked about whether this would impact the views of young Asian cricketers in the county he said: "My advice to any young Asian cricketers looking to attend trials and represent YCCC is to pursue another county, not Yorkshire. Until something is done the Asian community living in Yorkshire will have no faith whatsoever in sending any of their youth to trials at YCCC."

Rehman believes the Rafiq case highlights a wider epidemic of systemic racism in the county. "I witnessed this with my own eyes when all three of my lads who were talented cricketers and all represented the county never got further after age 16. I have played cricket for over 40 years and witnessed the coaches select white lads over Asian lads that were far better than them."

Others share the same opinion. Abdul Ravat who is involved with a Muslim cricket club in Batley said: "I'm struggling to understand the strategy from YCCC Board on this.

"Despite the fact that seven of the 43 allegations were upheld by an independent panel concluding that Azeem Rafiq had been a victim of racial harassment and bullying at Yorkshire Cricket Club, no disciplinary action will be taken. How is that defensible?

"The wider community, and in particular the BAME groups, will brand it as a 150-year-old institution which is still racist. Have we not learnt anything from the BLM movement?"

Abdul Ravat says he is struggling to understand the YCCC's handling of the situation. Credit: Abdul Ravat

"YCCC has a massive task on its hands and needs to reach out and truly ask if it is levelling up so that opportunities, investment in facilities, and structure and governance reflect need and represents a level playing field."

These voices represent a small proportion of many who feel that action needs to be taken. Regardless of the outcome of a board meeting on Friday, ITV News understands that a protest will be held outside Headingley stadium, the home of YCCC, over the weekend. For many, this will be an opportunity to articulate the depth of feeling about issues that have been bubbling around the club and its attitudes towards racism for some time.

Founded in 1863, the Yorkshire County Cricket Club prides itself on being one of the most successful clubs in the world. They have played in every top-level domestic cricket competition in England and are the most successful team in English cricketing history with 33 County Championship titles. The danger posed by the current scandal is that its proud history is undermined and, that unless swift action is taken, for many in the community the name Yorkshire County Cricket Club comes to represent something altogether different.