Azeem Rafiq 'staggered' by cricket club chair's reasons for lack of diversity in game

Azeem Rafiq spoke to ITV News about his outrage after the chair of Middlesex County Cricket Club appeared to suggest Black and Asian youngsters prefer other activities to cricket

Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq - who blew the whistle on the racist abuse he suffered at Yorkshire - slammed Middlesex chair Mike O’Farrell's "hurtful" comments about the struggle to make cricket more diverse.

County chairmen, including O’Farrell, were called before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee on Tuesday to talk about the efforts their clubs were making to become more diverse.

When committee chair Julian Knight said Middlesex, based in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, was still underperforming, O’Farrell suggested black and Asian young players were choosing to move on to other activities.

He said: “57% of the players we have at under-17 come from culturally diverse backgrounds.

“As we move up the chain, particularly as we get to the academy, we then find it becomes more difficult for several reasons.

“The football and rugby world becomes much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community.

"And in terms of the South Asian community there’s a moment where we’re finding that they do not want to commit necessarily the same time that is necessary to go to the next step because they prefer - not always saying they do it - they prefer to go into other educational fields where cricket becomes secondary.

“Part of that is because it is rather a more time-consuming sport than some others, so we’re finding that’s difficult.

"Now that’s changing, with Twenty20 and the one-day games, we are now finding that we are coming full circle because the game is getting more exposed.

“There’s much more choice, there’s much more variation in the games and therefore the South Asian community, young men and women – particularly women – are finding this a much more attractive sport.

“So we are moving it forward. It’s not as fast as we’d like it to (be) and we’re trying to make as many opportunities as we can.”

'They try and say that black kids are going toward football and rugby and Asian kids want to study,' Azeem Rafiq slams Mike O'Farrell's comments

O’Farrell’s comments were taken to be generalisations of whole communities and Rafiq told ITV News: "They try and say that black kids are going toward football and rugby and Asian kids want to study.

"It's hurtful actually, it makes me really angry.

"But it just shows you, if they're prepared to say that in a public forum with the scrutiny we're at, how far removed from reality they are and what they will be doing privately."

The cricketer also tweeted: “This has just confirmed what an endemic problem the game has. I actually can’t believe what I am listening to.”

O’Farrell later issued a statement apologising for his remarks.

He added: “I was aiming to make the point that as a game, cricket has failed a generation of young cricketers, in systematically failing to provide them with the same opportunities that other sports and sectors so successfully provide."

Rafiq spoke about the racist abuse he suffered as a player during two spells at Yorkshire County Cricket Club in an appearance before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee in November last year.

His testimony, plus those of others who came forward to allege abuse during their county careers, prompted major change at Yorkshire and the implementation of a 12-point plan to tackle discrimination by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

New Yorkshire cricket chair Lord Patel said he felt 'uncomfortable' at Headingley

O'Farrell's testimony came after new Yorkshire cricket chairman, Lord Patel, had told the MPs that he "didn't feel comfortable" when he walked into Headingley on his first day in the job.

Lord Patel said the club was changing, but revealed his unease on day one.

"From nine weeks ago when I first walked in, it fundamentally feels different," he said. "The day I went in, in day one I didn't feel quite comfortable.

"Walking through the corridors every day, I enjoy going to work, I enjoy seeing people, I enjoy speaking to them. That wasn't the case on day one.

"So fundamentally we are changing but there's a long way to go. I think the foundations are in place, the scaffolding is up, but to build a skyscraper is going to take time. But I'm very optimistic."

Ebony Rainford-Brent, a director at Surrey and chair of the ACE Programme charity which aims to support diverse talent, also wrote on Twitter: “Honestly these outdated views in the game are exactly why we are in this position.

“Unfortunately the decision-makers hold onto these myths. ‘The Black community only like football, and Asian community only interested in education’. Seriously the game deserves better.”