Azeem Rafiq to leave UK after backlash over Yorkshire County Cricket racism scandal

Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq is to leave the UK with his family this weekend after a backlash over his claims of institutional racism in the sport.

Rafiq, 31, was ten years-old when he was brought to the UK by his family from Pakistan to start a new life because of concerns for their safety.

But the father-of-two says he is now having to pack up his home in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, and quit the country for his family's protection.

He said: "Twenty-one years ago, my dad picked us up and moved us because his business partner had been kidnapped and burnt. Twenty-one years on, deja vu and I'm having to pick my family up and leave for safety reasons. That breaks me."

Rafiq prompted a game-wide scandal after going public with claims that he had been a victim of institutional racism while a player at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Almost a year ago he gave evidence to a parliamentary committee, in which he said his experiences had left him feeling suicidal.

Azeem Rafiq told an enquiry he had been subjected to regular abuse during two spells at Yorkshire Credit: House of Commons

The revelations led to a wave of sackings at Yorkshire and a report concluding that racism in cricket was "deep-seated".

Rafiq said in the wake of his allegations he was bombarded with abuse on social media and in person, but that problems had escalated and led to threats against his family.

"I was away from home a few months ago and my parents' house got circled late at night [by someone] with what looked like a weapon in their hand and, to this day, nothing has happened on that," he said.

Azeem Rafiq first spoke out about his experiences of racism and bullying in 2019 Credit: PA

"That really started to raise my fears. There's been attacks - verbal attacks, social media - and it has got to the point where I've had to take the decision to take my family away from the country."

He added: "For the last two years I have put the cause very much front and centre of my life and I will continue to do that, just in a different manner. I need to protect and take a little heat off my family."

The move comes after Rafiq himself was sanctioned after anti-Semitic messages he had written years earlier emerged online.

There have been further claims made against him of anti-Semitism and bullying.

But Rafiq denied the allegations.

He added: "I never thought it would be easy but little did I think I would have to deal with such a coordinated campaign of lies.

"Certain sections of the press have been intent on going after me and knowing full well some of the things they are printing are not true. It's been difficult. But all they are doing is scaring everyone else away who wants to speak out about their experiences."

Rafiq praised Yorkshire for leading the way in trying to change cricket's culture, but said progress had been slow.

"At this stage it would be difficult for me to sit here - nearly a year on - and say that things have moved on as much as they should have."

He did not want to disclose where he was moving to, but said he would return to the UK intermittently to continue his campaign for change in the sport.

And, despite the tumult of the last 12 months, Rafiq said he would do the same again.

"I think the price of not speaking out was way more than the price of speaking out," he said.

"It's difficult and at times I do feel like I'm putting my family through more than they deserve to be put through, but I look at it and my dad said to me 'you've done more [by speaking out] than any runs of cricket could'.

"Ultimately you have to look past your nose at some point in your life and things need to change."

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