Yorkshire cricket chair quits over Azeem Rafiq racism report

The chair of Yorkshire County Cricket Club has quit over the organisation’s response to the racism experienced by ex-player Azeem Rafiq, as an escalating crisis threatened to engulf the sport’s leadership.

Roger Hutton resigned on Friday amid mounting pressure on the Yorkshire club over its failure to act on allegations that led top sponsors to withdraw and heavy criticism from politicians including health secretary Sajid Javid.

The scandal threatens to cascade further through the sport, with Hutton accusing the England and Wales Cricket Board, the national governing body, of not assisting its inquiries into Rafiq’s allegations, while former England captain Michael Vaughan also revealed he had been named in Yorkshire’s independent report into racism at the club but denied the allegation.

“The club should have recognised at the time the serious allegations of racism,” said Hutton. “I am sorry that we could not persuade executive members of the board to recognise the gravity of the situation and show care and contrition.”

But he added that he had contacted the ECB to ask for the body to intervene when he became aware of Rafiq’s accusations. He claimed the ECB declined to help. “It is a matter of record that I have continually expressed my frustration at the ECB’s reluctance to act.”

The cricinfo website cited a confidential independent report into Rafiq’s allegations, which confirmed that a teammate — later revealed to be former England batsman Gary Ballance — had repeatedly called him “paki”, a widely-recognised racial slur against British Asians. The club determined that the word had been used as friendly “banter” between the players.

Club sponsors such as publisher Emerald Group, kit supplier Nike and local groups Yorkshire Tea and Harrogate Water have cut ties with the club.

On Thursday the England and Wales Cricket Board, the sport’s domestic governing body, banned Yorkshire from hosting international matches and threatened to impose further sanctions unless reformed. The ECB said Yorkshire’s handling of Rafiq’s allegations was “wholly unacceptable and is causing serious damage to the reputation of the game”.

Ballance, who has admitted he had used a racial slur towards Rafiq and regretted doing so, has been barred from selection to the England team. Vaughan, the former England captain, writing in the Telegraph, denied “any accusation of racism”.

The scandal underlines the growing focus within sport to battle racism since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.

Floyd’s death sparked a wider anti-racism movement and inspired athletes across sports to protest. Players in the English Premier League, the world’s richest domestic football league, kneel ahead of matches, while Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton has started initiatives to increase diversity in the global racing series.

Julian Knight MP, chair of the UK parliament’s influential digital, culture, media and sport committee, has questioned why the board is in place.

The committee has already said it will summon Hutton and senior Yorkshire executives to question them about how the club dealt with the allegations.

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