Azeem Rafiq: Major sponsors including Yorkshire Tea abandon Yorkshire Cricket over racism claims

Yorkshire Tea have parted ways with Yorkshire County Cricket Club Credit: PA Images/Yorkshire County Cricket Club

Major sponsors have abandoned Yorkshire County Cricket Club over their handling of Azeem Rafiq's racism claims.

Emerald Group Publishing, primary commercial partners who held naming rights to Headingley Stadium, and Yorkshire Tea have followed shirt sponsors Anchor Butter in ending their association with the team.

The latest to pull out is Harrogate Spring Water who announced on Twitter their decision to end their sponsorship deal with immediate effect.

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

It comes as a group of over thirty 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.

Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel, whose constituency includes Headingley, signed the letter and also revealed that he wrote to Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur six weeks ago raising concerns over the club's handling of the issue, but received no response.

Sobel told ITV News that management at the club are currently putting its future in jeopardy.

Yorkshire recently concluded that no employees would face any action as a result of the report.

The full report has never been published.

Rafiq is set to appear in front of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's select committee in an evidence session that is understood to be taking place on November 16, and could offer up his fullest and most damning account yet given the presence of parliamentary privilege.

The Emerald publishing group, which has naming rights at Headingley Stadium, has described its “dismay” at recent reports. Credit: PA Images

Yorkshire were already counting the cost of Anchor's decision to cease its shirt sponsorship deal and now Emerald has followed suit.

A statement read:

It continues: "Our intention remains to continue a financial commitment to the stadium itself, which is also the home of Leeds Rhinos rugby, as we believe this supports the aims of diversity and inclusion in sport along with a range of charitable community endeavours.

"Emerald will, however, no longer sponsor Yorkshire County Cricket Club. We hope that YCCC will listen and respond with serious action to eradicate racism from the club and uphold the values we all expect."

Yorkshire County Cricket Club are yet to respond, but in September Roger Hutton, Chair of Yorkshire CCC, said: "There is no question that Azeem Rafiq, during his first spell as a player at YCCC, was the victim of racial harassment.

"He was also subsequently the victim of bullying. On behalf of all at YCCC, I wish to extend my sincere, profound and unreserved apologies to Azeem and to his family."