‘I don’t think cricket wants to listen’: Azeem Rafiq’s accusation of racism at Yorkshire has led to an independent inquiry… but six months on he has heard nothing
- Rafiq is hurt after his quest for truth and justice turned into a gruelling ordeal
- He was caught in a storm after accusing Yorkshire of institutionalised racism
- Six months on from the launch of the investigation, Rafiq has heard nothing
Azeem Rafiq’s voice cracks with emotion as he considers the impact of his quest for what he believes is truth and justice but has turned into an ordeal.
‘I spoke out and I thought it would be the start of a healing process — it’s been anything but that,’ says the man who finds himself in the eye of a storm after accusing Yorkshire of institutionalised racism.
‘It’s been really difficult for me to understand how it has all unfolded. I’ve had some dark days. I wanted to be as honest as possible and I wanted everyone to know what was going on at Yorkshire when I played there.
Azeem Rafiq is hurt after his quest for truth and justice turned into a gruelling ordeal
‘But I don’t think cricket wants to listen. I don’t feel as though the game is in any way prepared to do something really meaningful about all this. I’ve been left really hurt.’
It is Rafiq’s damning verdict on what he sees as the unacceptably long time it is taking Yorkshire to make public their report on the serious allegations he made about his near 10-year association with his local county. Six months on from the launch of the independent investigation he has heard nothing.
‘It has been a big strain,’ continues Rafiq. ‘The whole reason for speaking out was to get some sort of closure. I never expected that to be easy but it’s been tough to hear about some of the things that have been happening behind the scenes.
He found himself in the eye of a storm after accusing Yorkshire of institutionalised racism
‘I want to give Yorkshire a chance, but it’s getting to the point where I feel enough is enough. I did not think I would be getting threats to my family and my business. I thought people would want to find a way to move forward. Now I think they want it all to go away.’
This all started for the former England Under 19 captain last August when he gave an interview to Wisden.com about his catering business and how he was donating meals to NHS staff and key workers in the fight against Covid. But things took a very different turn.
‘I was asked a question about racism and prejudice and it all came tumbling out,’ says the 30-year-old from his home in Barnsley. ‘Emotions took over and everything that was inside me and I’d kept to myself came to the surface. Don’t get me wrong. This was something that I eventually wanted to talk about. I just didn’t intend this to be the time.
Six months on from the launch of the independent investigation, Rafiq has heard nothing
‘But there was interest in what I said so I did a podcast and another interview. Only then did I get any sort of acknowledgment from Yorkshire. So I do believe it was media pressure that sparked the inquiry.’
That inquiry is ongoing even though Yorkshire insist it is taking time because the allegations are so serious they need to be thoroughly investigated.
But Rafiq, who is also suing his old club for racial discrimination in a tribunal that is due to be held in June, believes their silence is deafening.
‘I sat down with the inquiry in November,’ he explains. ‘I said, “You’ve been handed a massive responsibility”. But since that day I’ve had no communication from them and I find that disrespectful. I have no idea when they are going to release the report.
‘First they said December. Then January. Then February, then I heard March and then spring.
‘I can see now why victims of abuse find it difficult to come forward. This has had a massive effect on my mental health and recently it’s affected my physical health as well. That’s down to the fact that, as a victim, I’ve got to sit there and convince some guy I’m telling the truth. I’m not sure that’s how it should be.’
Rafiq made serious allegations about his near 10-year association with his local county
Rafiq says he was the victim of regular verbal abuse, including being called a ‘P***’ and ‘elephant washer’ during his time at Headingley. There is also the claim that a leading figure said, ‘There’s too many of you lot here’, to a group of British Asian players at the club, including Rafiq. He also says one of his captains at Yorkshire was openly racist.
‘I don’t know if those specific people have been spoken to by the inquiry,’ says Rafiq. ‘They certainly haven’t come forward to me. What I do know is that a lot of people who supported me haven’t been spoken to.
‘Just one person who was in that dressing room and saw what went on has rung me to privately say sorry for what I went through. Nobody else has and in many ways that’s the worst aspect of all of this.’
It was not meant to be like this. Rafiq was an off-spinning all-rounder lauded for his leadership when he captained an England Under 19 side including Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler at the 2010 World Cup.
He was also regarded highly as a stand-in T20 Yorkshire captain by, among others, Geoff Boycott when Andrew Gale was injured.
But he was released in the same year that he suffered the tragedy of his eldest son being still-born three years ago, leading to further accusations of a lack of pastoral care.
Apart from taking coaching qualifications, Rafiq is essentially separated from the game.
The 30-year-old is also suing his old club for racial discrimination in a tribunal
‘For the last few months I haven’t wanted anything more to do with the game,’ he says. ‘I do love cricket. From the time I was born in Pakistan before I moved to Yorkshire, I would be out playing cricket on the streets, diving about and coming home with dirt and blood all over me.
‘It hurts me that I’m in a situation where I don’t want to take my kids to a cricket ground or be involved in the game.
‘Once this is all over, and hopefully the game has listened and corrected things, I will go back to it because I really think I can make a difference.
‘At the start of this I didn’t want to cause any trouble for anyone but the further I’ve gone I do think there has to be some level of accountability. It’s very important if any trust is to be won back. I do want justice.
‘If that means I need to keep on speaking out, I will do that. I know there are people in the game still suffering in the same way I did and I do think we’re brushing it under the carpet.
‘If we don’t take this opportunity as a game and as people we might not get another one.’
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