Yorkshire Cricket Club’s racist player and its hapless board are being urged to quit today as sponsors began abandoning them over its handling of the Azeem Rafiq race row after bosses said a teammate who reduced him to tears after repeatedly called him a ‘P*ki’ was just throwing around ‘friendly banter’.
Britain’s most successful county team is also under increasing political pressure after MPs summoned chairman Roger Hutton to face Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee over the club’s farcical handling of Rafiq’s complaints.
DCMS committee chairman Julian Knight said of the unnamed racist cricketer: ‘Why has anyone who ever used the “p word” still in their job?’, adding: ‘Given the endemic racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, I struggle to think of any reason why that the board should remain in post. This is one of the most repellent and disturbing episodes in modern cricket history’.
Yesterday Health Secretary Sajid Javid called for the board to resign yesterday as he tweeted: ‘P*** is not banter. Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If (the) ECB doesn’t take action it’s not fit for purpose.’ Boris Johnson‘s spokesman then urged the England and Wales Cricket Board to ‘investigate this thoroughly and quickly’ and ‘take action where needed’.
Today Sportsmail can reveal that Yorkshire has already lost one of their main commercial partners and several other sponsors are demanding answers.
A spokesman for Arla Foods, the Danish food company who produce Anchor, said that their butter brand will not renew their sponsorship of the county’s 50-over team, while Tetley’s brewery and Emerald Publishing are also talking to Yorkshire about their ongoing involvement.
Anchor’s decision to walk away will increase the pressure on Yorkshire’s other sponsors to act following the revelation by ESPNcricinfo that the club took no disciplinary action against a current player who regularly called Rafiq a ‘P***’ according to the independent report commissioned by the county into the former spinner’s racism allegations.
The player is also said to have admitted telling other people ‘don’t talk to him (Rafiq), he’s a P**i’; asking ‘is that your uncle?’ when bearded Asian men were in view; and saying in reference to corner shops: ‘Does your Dad own those?’
Yorkshire have lost one of their main commercial partners over the club’s handling of the Azeem Rafiq (left) race row. Chairman Roger Hutton (right) is under pressure to resign and will now face Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee over the club’s farcical handling of Rafiq’s complaints
It comes after Azeem Rafiq (pictured playing for Yorkshire in 2016) claimed he experienced racism during his stint at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club
Emerald have been the title sponsors of Headingley since 2017, while the support of Leeds-based brewery Tetley’s goes back decades.
‘We are dismayed by the conclusion of an independent panel that the former player, Azeem Rafiq, suffered racial harassment and bullying during his time at the club,’ read an Emerald statement.
Yorkshire’s handling of the case has horrified Britain with bosses accused of trying to sweep racism under the carpet.
The inquiry into Azeem Rafiq’s accusations of racism at Yorkshire cleared a player after concluding that regular use of the term ‘P**i’ came during ‘banter’ between the pair.
According to ESPNcricinfo, Yorkshire’s report — passed to the ECB for further investigation — cleared the individual of wrongdoing as it was perceived the comments were made in a friendly, good-natured manner.
The investigating panel did not accept that the ex-England Under 19 captain was offended by the other player’s comments, either at the time or at a later date, even though he was seen crying.
They said in the context of ‘banter between friends’, Rafiq might be ‘expected to take such comments in the spirit in which they were intended’.
It is reported that the panel found Rafiq’s reference to a team-mate of Zimbabwean heritage as ‘Zimbo from Zimbabwe’ as a ‘racist, derogatory term’ and said that if Rafiq were still at Yorkshire, he would have faced disciplinary action.
After the story emerged, Yorkshire then reiterated that no disciplinary action would be taken by them in the wake of Rafiq’s allegations.
‘The club carried out its own internal investigation which shows there is no conduct or action taken by any current employees, players or executives that warrants disciplinary action,’ read a club statement.
‘We do, however, acknowledge we must work hard to restore trust from those who feel let down.
‘There is much the club can learn from the independent report and we are committed to incorporating the panel’s recommendations into our diversity and inclusion plans.’
A spokesperson for Arla Foods, the Danish food company who produce Anchor Butter, told Sportsmail that they will not renew their sponsorship of the county’s 50-over team
Of last Thursday’s announcement that no action would follow, a spokesperson for Rafiq said: ‘This is despite Yorkshire’s admission that Azeem was the victim of racial harassment and bullying, and despite their admission they failed to follow their own policy and investigate allegations of racism as recently as 2018.
‘It is inconceivable that there are no current employees who should not have been disciplined. It is time that board members — for once — did the decent thing and resigned.’
The redacted report, released on September 10, recorded that ‘the panel did not find Rafiq’s evidence wholly credible. Rafiq and the player engaged in friendly verbal attack towards each other, and no malice was intended by either to the other’.
Rafiq’s disturbing account of his time at the club first came to light more than a year ago but recent developments commanded the attention of senior Westminster figures on Tuesday, with Javid’s strongly-worded intervention following the news that Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton will be called to face the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.
An independent report commissioned by Yorkshire previously resolved that Rafiq, who played for his home county in two stints between 2008 and 2018, had been a victim of ‘racial harassment and bullying’. Despite offering an apology, the club went on to state that none of its employees would face any further action.
ESPNcricinfo this week published alleged details of the report, including a senior player’s admission that he had repeatedly used the word ‘P***’ in reference to Rafiq, which was subsequently deemed to be ‘in the spirit of friendly banter’.
Javid, the first British Pakistani to head a government department in 2014, posted on Twitter: ‘P***’ is not banter. Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If @ECB-cricket doesn’t take action it’s not fit for purpose.’
The closing words amount to a challenge directly aimed at the game’s governing body, which has only recently received a full copy of the Rafiq report as part of its own ‘thorough and fair’ investigation.
A No 10 spokesperson, responding to Javid’s comments, said: ‘These are very serious allegations which have clearly had a very significant impact on Azeem Rafiq and it’s important they are investigated thoroughly and quickly.
‘We urge them to look at this with the utmost scrutiny and take action where needed. Language like that should never be used in any context or form whatsoever.’
Asked whether the word ‘P***’ could ever be used as ‘banter’, the spokesman added: ‘No, this is racist language and should not be used in any context whatsoever.’
In a statement, the ECB apologised for the matter not being resolved and acknowledged the effect of that on the wellbeing on Rafiq and his family.
The ECB said: ‘We will conduct a full regulatory process that is fair to all parties, but also ensure this happens as quickly as possible.
‘To achieve this, we have secured the services of a QC, along with other external investigatory support to upweight resource around our process. The ECB board has also reaffirmed its commitment to further additional resource, should the investigation require it.’
Looking ahead, Hutton will now be preparing to provide evidence to the DCMS select committee – a session which could yield hitherto unpublished revelations as it will be covered by parliamentary privilege.
DCMS committee chair Julian Knight demanded the resignation of members of Yorkshire’s board over what he described as the ‘endemic racism’ at the club.
Knight tweeted: ‘Given the endemic racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, I struggle to think of any reason why that board should remain in post.
‘This is one of the most repellent and disturbing episodes in modern cricket history.’
‘We want to see much greater transparency from YCCC – it is time for them to answer their critics. We intend to call the Chair of the club before the DCMS Committee to give a much fuller explanation than we have had so far.’
Nadine Dorries, secretary of state for DCMS, added her own thoughts on Twitter, posting: ‘Azeem Rafiq’s treatment after the racism he faced was disgusting, and the investigation that followed only makes it even worse. The @ECB-cricket investigation must be swift and fully transparent. Racism must be confronted, and NEVER written off as just ‘banter’.’
Julian Knight, the chairman of the select committee, said in a statement: ‘This is extremely concerning and it’s clear that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has questions to answer.’
Yorkshire have been contacted for comment by PA, while the man at the centre of the issue, Rafiq, tweeted his own response in the evening.
‘Over the last 14 months I have told both @PCA and @ECB-cricket that someone needs to show leadership & take this out of @YorkshireCCC hands. No-one believed me, no-one listened everyone tried to protect themselves and left me all alone to fight. TIME FOR THE FULL TRUTH,’ he wrote.
The Professional Cricketers’ Association told the PA news agency: ‘The PCA continues to discuss this extremely important issue with stakeholders and is supportive of the ECB’s regulative process now the governing body has received the full report.’
The developments in Rafiq’s case have also attracted the attention of anti-racism campaign group HOPE Not Hate, with its chief executive Nick Lowles telling PA: ‘In 2021, we have a right to expect racism and intolerance to be taken seriously. We cannot sit idly by while institutions try to brush these problems under the carpet – we all have a part to play in refusing to accept racial intolerance and taking a stand against organisations who fail to tackle racism.
‘Azeem Rafiq deserves justice. Cricket, like any sport, unites people across many backgrounds – but when institutions fail to safeguard and protect players from abuse, the premise of unity falls apart.’
Yorkshire are also feeling the pinch commercially. Anchor, sponsor of the county’s Royal London Cup kit last season, announced it was ending its support, with a tweet reading: ‘There is never a place or an excuse for racism. We have no further activity supporting YCCC.’
The Emerald publishing group – a primary sponsor of the county, which has naming rights at Headingley Stadium – has described its ‘dismay’ at recent reports and expects further action to be taken.
A statement to PA read: ‘We take all matters related to any form of racism or discriminatory behaviour seriously and expect all our partners to uphold our values.
‘As sponsors of the Headingley stadium, we are dismayed by the conclusion of an independent panel that the former player, Azeem Rafiq, suffered racial harassment and bullying during his time at the club.
‘Whilst the club has offered its unreserved apology for this, and has made a number of positive changes in the intervening years, there is clearly still a great deal more to do.’