How Azeem Rafiq’s testimony of racist abuse sheds light on the sport’s deep-rooted problems

November 16, 2021 may be remembered as Cricket’s Rainy Day; In the wake of Rafiq’s testimony, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – the sport’s regulator in these two countries – talked about taking the “necessary action” and the need to “learn homework as a game.”

The ECB has a lot of work to do.

Rafiq’s detailed account of his time at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club hardly shocked Taj Butt, who worked for the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation, the club’s charity and community department, between 2014 and 2017.

“As depressing as it was to listen to him … some of the things he faced did not come as a surprise to most involved in the game, whether it is at the grassroots level or at the highest level,” Butt tells CNN Sport.

“It’s the kind of thing that unfortunately still happens in everyday life.”

During his testimony to British lawmakers on Tuesday, Rafiq described some of the horrific behavior he was subjected to while playing for Yorkshire, adding that he believes he lost his cricket career due to racism.

In an interview with CNN, Rafiq also said he would prevent his children from getting into cricket as he does not want his “son or daughter to be in pain.”

The hour-long testimony was the culmination of a 16-month period in which Yorkshire conducted an independent review of more than 40 allegations of racism and bullying made by Rafiq.

Following the review, the club accepted that Rafiq had been the “victim of inappropriate behavior” in Yorkshire, although no one at the club was disciplined as a result of the independent investigation.

On Tuesday, former Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton, who resigned from his role in the midst of dealing with Rafiq’s claims, said the club is institutionally racist. Hutton said the ECB “refused to help” when it approached the governing body after hearing about Rafiq’s claims.

For Butt, who has been involved in the sport in the Yorkshire area for most of his life, the lack of accountability in response to Rafiq’s claims has been sharp.

“The institution has been quite arrogant that they felt they could actually get away without having to do anything,” he says.

“It’s actually shown in the way they’ve handled Azeem Rafiq and the whole situation. We certainly hope that the first thing they do is acknowledge that there’s a problem.

“It’s one thing they’ve never done, they’ve never seen it as a problem … But I think they’re still at that stage of denial.”

CNN has contacted Yorkshire for a response to Butt’s comments.

Rafiq plays a battle against Middlesex in September 2016.
On Thursday, Rafiq apologized for anti-Semitic comments he said he made in 2011 after the appearance of a screenshot of messages.

“I am incredibly angry with myself and I apologize to the Jewish community and anyone who is rightly offended by this,” Rafiq said.

In response to the apology, Marie van der Zyl, chair of the board of British Jews, said: “Azeem Rafiq has suffered terribly in the hands of racists in cricket, so he will well understand what harm this exchange will cause to Jews who have supported him.

“His apology certainly seems heartfelt, and we have no reason to believe that he is not entirely sincere.”

Kamlesh Patel, who recently took over Hutton as chairman of Yorkshire, has promised the club will change.

“There is no quick fix to the clear problems that have been identified and the problems are complex, not least the accusation of institutional racism that needs to be addressed directly,” he said in a statement.

“Azeem noted that this is not about individuals, but rather the structure and processes of the club, and we need to tackle this.

“It’s clear we have good people in the Yorkshire County Cricket Club and it gives me hope that we can.”


While Rafiq’s testimony has made headlines this week, Butt says the Yorkshire region has abused South Asian cricketers for decades, even at the grassroots level.

He currently chairs the Quaid-e-Azam Sunday Cricket League (QeASCL), which was formed in 1980 in an effort to create more opportunities for Asian cricketers in Yorkshire and its surrounding areas.

“For a young Asian person to go and join the local club, it was simply a no-go area for them,” Butt explains of the reasons behind the league’s formation.

He adds: “In the sport of cricket, there is a big difference if you happen to come from the South Asian community and from an inner city area and do not go to a [fee-paying] primary school.

“You’re going to face a big disadvantage in participating in the sport of cricket, because your access to facilities, grounds and all the other things that make things more accessible are unfortunately lacking.”

Over the years, a handful of players who appeared for teams in QeASCL have played professional cricket, including Yorkshire and England’s Adil Rashid.

Yorkshire is home to a large South Asian population, but the county side first repealed its rule to select Yorkshire-born players in 1992.

“We’ve always known that our young people are evolving, they have to be twice as good as their white counterparts to evolve further,” Butt says.

“It’s clear that once they get into the system, and the higher up they get … there seem to be barriers that still seem to be that glass ceiling. And it’s clear that young people are still getting discriminated against. ”

The Yorkshire County Cricket Club has promised to address racism issues within the organization.

Weather restrictions are not only unique to Yorkshire. According to the ECB, South Asian communities account for 30% of all cricketers in England and Wales, but only 4% of top-class county cricketers are of South Asian descent.

The ECB is pursuing a South Asian action plan to create more opportunities for – and better engagement with – South Asian communities.

‘Significant moment for change’

The week before Rafiq’s testimony in the British Parliament, describing cricket’s racism problem as ‘worse than society’, those with experience in sport have been urged to submit their views and experiences to the Independent Commission on Equity on Cricket ( ICEC). ).

Cindy Butts, chair of ICEC, told the BBC that more than 1,000 people showed up to share their experiences the week after the call for evidence was made.
“In the years to come, we will see this as an important moment for change in cricket and society,” former English cricketer Monty Panesar told CNN this week.

“Azeem Rafiq should be commended for his courageous comments. He is willing to work with the ECB and the Yorkshire County Cricket Club to resolve some of the issues in our game.”


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