Azeem Rafiq tells MPs he endured 'constant' racial slurs at Yorkshire and was left 'humiliated'
ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott reports on the emotional select committee hearing which saw Azeem Rafiq detail his experiences of racism
Azeem Rafiq fought back tears as he told a parliamentary committee of racial slurs being "used constantly" at his two spells at Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC), leaving him feeling "humiliated" in front of other players.
Giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee, the 30-year-old former professional cricketer said: “Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian background…there were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’."
He told MPs other racial slurs were used constantly.
Rafiq said he felt "isolated, humiliated at times" due to the persistent racism he says he suffered.
'I was young kid from Pakistan living in Barnsley with a dream to represent England', Rafiq said
The former all-rounder, ex-England U-19s and Yorkshire captain said he started medication due to his deteriorating mental health and left Yorkshire for the first time in 2014.
A series of other harrowing claims were heard by the committee, including Rafiq saying he was pinned down and had red wine poured down his mouth at his local cricket club aged 15.
He also said Yorkshire's treatment of him was "inhuman" after his son was still-born in 2017.
When asked by Damian Green MP if he thought cricket was institutionally racist, Rafiq replied: "Yes, I do."
"Azim was incredibly powerful... I repeat my profound apologies for the experience he's had with the club" - Former YCCC chair Roger Hutton said Rafiq had been brave to speak out as he said he would have liked to have removed several members of the board for their response to Rafiq's claims.
Former chair Roger Hutton, who stepped down over the scandal, appeared to point the finger at some of the powerful investors who support the club over why Yorkshire did not take firmer action against racism.
Mr Hutton said he had been blocked from removing senior members from the board over allegations of racism because the Colin Graves Trust vetoed it.
Hutton said he wanted to remove them "as a consequence of the failure to understand the gravity of the situation (regarding Rafiq) and failing to apologise, and particularly for their failings and to move on the recommendations".
He said it was “wrong" that a major creditor like the Trust should have the power to veto board decisions.
Following the hearing, the publication of a written statement escalated matters even further. In the statement from his now-settled employment tribunal with Yorkshire, Rafiq said that Bresnan’s treatment of him led to “suicidal thoughts” in 2017, with a later apology from Bresnan described by Rafiq as “lip service”.
'Constant' use of racial slurs helped lead to worsening mental health
"Pretty early on at the club, I joined a dressing room full of my heroes, Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, part of the 2005 Ashes team. And it was just the most surreal moment for me," Rafiq told the DCMS committee.
He said that from "early on" there was a lot of reference to "you lot sit over there near the toilets", with common use of racial slurs which went unchecked.
"All I wanted to do was play cricket," Rafiq said, adding he began to feel something was "wrong" towards the end of his first spell at the club and started taking medication to deal with his deteriorating mental health. He left Yorkshire for the first time in 2014.
Michael Vaughan has denied making racist comments.
Rafiq said 2005 Ashes winner Matthew Hoggard had phoned him to apologise for hurtful comments.
He alleged that Hoggard subjected him to such abuse “on a daily basis…all day, every day” and making players of Asian heritage sit together in the changing room.
Rafiq also said he has raised a complaint about the conduct of another former England seamer, Tim Bresnan. In his statement, he wrote: “Tim frequently made racist comments and was unduly harsh towards me compared to white British players, which became so unbearable that I made a formal complaint against him in 2017”. Bresnan later apologised for “any part I played in contributing to Azeem Rafiq’s experience of being bullied” but said he had not made any racist comments.
Yorkshire's head coach Andrew Gale is also alleged to have used a variety of racial slurs, as well as using his leadership positions to subject Rafiq to “discriminatory treatment and bullying” which held back his career.
Feeling 'humiliated' when he returned to Yorkshire
When he returned he initially felt settled under captain Alex Lees and coach Jason Gillespie. “Jason left in 2016 and it just felt the temperature in the room had been turned up,” Rafiq said.
"You had Andrew Gale coming in as coach and Gary Ballance as captain. “For the first time I started to see for what it was – I felt isolated, humiliated at times. Constant use of the word ‘P***’.” Rafiq alleged on a 2017 pre-season tour Ballance had racially abused him. “We were in a place and Gary Ballance walks over and goes, ‘Why are you talking to him? You know he’s a P***’. This happened in front of teammates. It happened in front of coaching staff.”
Pinned down and had wine poured down throat
Rafiq, who is a Muslim, said he did things he is not proud of to fit in.
He recalled being pinned down as a 15-year-old in club cricket, with a player pouring red wine down his throat.
'I actually got pinned down at my local cricket club and red wine got poured down my throat,' Rafiq said
“I actually got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat... literally down my throat,” Rafiq told the committee. “The player played for Yorkshire, played for Hampshire. It was quite an experience. I (then) didn’t touch alcohol until about around 2012 and around that time I felt like I had to do that to fit in." “I wasn’t perfect, there are things I did which I felt I had to do to achieve my dreams. I deeply regret that but it has nothing to do with racism. “When I spoke, I should have been listened to. The game as a whole has a problem, with listening to the victim. There is no ‘yeah, but’ with racism; there is no ‘two sides’ to racism."
The treatment that I received from some of the club officials was 'inhuman'
'I have just carried my son from the hospital to the graveyard and how I am getting treated here is not right', Rafiq said.
Rafiq said he did not receive the same treatment given to other players who had been through family tragedies after he lost his son in 2017.
"I have just carried my son from the hospital to the graveyard and how I am getting treated here is not right. To me it became very clear- to even myself- that I had been looking the other way."
"End of 2017, we had a really difficult pregnancy. Through that time the treatment that I received from some of the club officials was inhuman," he went on to explain.
"They were not really bothered about the fact that I was at training one day and I get a phone call to say there is no heartbeat."
'I was encouraged to sign a confidentiality form'
Rafiq said: “I think with four or five months left on my contract, I was encouraged to sign a confidentiality form and take a parcel of money which I refused. “At that time it would have been a lot of money for me. I think my wife was struggling. I knew I was struggling.
"There was no way mentally I could have even considered putting myself through this trauma. I actually left the country. I went to Pakistan. I never wanted to come back.”
Rafiq 'hurt' that Joe Root said he'd never witnessed racism at Yorkshire
After the committee took a break as Rafiq became visibly emotional, the former professional cricketer said he found it “hurtful” that England captain Joe Root said he had never witnessed any racism at Yorkshire.
“Rooty is a good man. He never engaged in racist language,” Rafiq said. “I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary (Ballance)’s housemate and had been involved in a lot of the socialising where I was called a ‘P***’," he explained. “It shows how normal it was that even a good man like him doesn’t see it for what it was. It’s not going to affect Joe, but it’s something I remember every day.”
'I don't want my son to go anywhere near cricket'
"I can’t even imagine as a parent, hearing me speak now, why I would ever want my kids to go anywhere near the game," Rafiq said.
"I don't want my son to go anywhere near cricket." "If I was a parent I'd say: 'Keep an eye on your kids, keep an eye on them because this is reality,'" he added.
Racism in cricket is replicated
Rafiq, who was born in Pakistan, said the problem at Yorkshire was replicated “up and down the country”.
Asked about the fact others, such as former Essex and Northamptonshire player Maurice Chambers, had now spoken out, Rafiq said: “I would like to see it as progress that people are feeling like they can come forward and they are going to be heard and not just be discredited, smeared about, briefed about.”
'I believe you, we believe you': MP offers support to Rafiq
"I believe you and I am sure this committee believes you," Julie Elliott, the Labour MP for Sunderland Central, said after quoting Rafiq raising doubts that no-one would believe his claims.
"So, don't for a second think that we don't believe you. And I think that most decent people in this country believe you."
'My family did not know what I was going through'
"My family did not know what I was going through until last year," Rafiq told MPs. "I have spoken to Amna at length since, and she has opened up about her experiences at Leicester. "I have no doubt whatever that this is a problem up and down the country."
Rafiq says he wants to become a 'voice for the voiceless'
"I want to become a voice for the voiceless," he said.
“Now that I have been brave, or stupid, whatever you want to call it, to stand up to an institution and hold it to account.
"I want to try and help the young lads who are wanting to achieve their dreams, prepare better."
The DCMS select committee is a cross-party panel of 11 MPs chaired by Tory MP Julian Knight.
At the start of his testimony former chair Mr Hutton offered his "profound apologies," by saying Rafiq's session was "incredibly powerful", adding how saddened he was by the experiences the former cricketer shared with the MPs.
Mr Hutton also said he had no "executive authority or responsibility in my role" to take disciplinary action against players for instances of racism.
He also added he welcomed the involvement of the DCMS committee in the situation at Yorkshire, and saying: “I do worry what would have happened if it hadn’t."He also said the ECB should have led the investigation into Rafiq's allegations, rather than leaving it to the club.
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison appeared to refute Mr Hutton's suggestion when he gave testimony saying it was very clear Yorkshire wanted to run the investigation themselves.
Meena Botros, director of legal and integrity at the ECB, said Yorkshire had only asked the ECB if it would like to put someone on the panel which would assess the investigation team’s findings. The committee will now produce a report of its findings and present them to the Commons.
The government will then reply within two months advising on its proposed course of action.
Yorkshire's new chairman, Lord Kamlesh Patel praised Rafiq’s stance in challenging discrimination.
Patel, who took over from Hutton earlier this month, said: “Azeem’s courage in speaking up should be praised, and nobody should underestimate how difficult it would have been to relive all of this in public".
Yorkshire Cricket Club is not the only entity implicated by Rafiq's testimony, as Sports Editor Steve Scott explains
Boris Johnson also commended Rafiq for speaking out, calling the cricketer "brave".
"There is no excuse for racism anywhere in society and we expect @EnglandCricket and @YorkshireCCC to take immediate action in response to these allegations," he tweeted.
Sky Sports broadcaster David Lloyd, who was named by Rafiq at the hearing, apologised for any offence caused during private messages he made last year.
Rafiq had alleged there had been “denial, briefings, cover-ups, smearing, high-profile media people messaging other members of the media who have supported me” and then added: “Personally, this guy doesn’t even know me, is talking about my personal drinking, going out and socalising. That was David Lloyd."
In a statement on Twitter, the former England coach said: “In these messages, I referred to allegations about Azeem Rafiq which I had heard from within the game. I also made some comments about the Asian cricket community.
“I deeply regret my actions, and I apologise most sincerely to Azeem and to the Asian cricket community for doing this, and for any offence caused.”
The committee hearing was organised after Rafiq made allegations of institutional racism against YCCC during two spells there, between 2008 and 2018.
The club upheld seven of 40 allegations he made, but said it would not take disciplinary action against any of its employees, players or executives, sparking outrage.
Since then a number of the top figures at the club have resigned from their positions, and ex-England captain Michael Vaughan has been accused of making racist comments to several players of Asian heritage - an allegation he denies.
The ECB has appointed an independent commission for equity in cricket, chaired by Cindy Butts, to examine the issue of race in the game and its call for evidence is now open.