By Isabel Ringrose
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Azeem Rafiq—English cricket is institutionally racist ‘up and down the country’

This article is over 2 years, 6 months old
Rafiq’s testimony blows apart Tory denials of systematic racism in Britain
Issue 2782
A picture of Headingley East cricket ground

Headingley—home of Yorkshire County Cricket Club (Picture: Wikimedia/CreativeCommons)

Cricketer Azeem Rafiq’s testimony of his “inhumane” and “toxic” treatment at Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) is a devastating account of institutional racism.

Rafiq detailed the racist abuse he faced in evidence to the digital, culture, media and sport select committee and an employment tribunal on Tuesday.

He had two spells at the club between 2008 and 2018. Despite formal complaints, players, coaches and management carried out racist abuse. Institutional racism at the club meant nothing was done to stop it.

Rafiq’s experience shows that the treatment went beyond YCCC and made it to the top of England cricket.

Some of his abusers sit in top positions in teams, clubs or on television. A handful have since apologised, but others deny making any comments or claim they “can’t remember”.

In a damning verdict on the culture of English cricket, Rafiq said it was “institutionally racist”. He said it needed to face up to an institutional racism problem “up and down the country”.

Rafiq said the slur “Paki” is still used at cricket clubs. And he cited Maurice Chambers’ experience of “monkey” and “banana” jibes in Essex.

Rafiq told MPs that at YCCC “there was a lot of ‘you lot sit over there near the toilets’, the word Paki was used constantly.”

The impact on his mental health meant Rafiq had to take medication.

In his witness statement Rafiq said the discriminatory culture “was allowed to thrive at YCCC”. Comments towards Rafiq and the other Asian players “were constant, on a daily basis, and all day, every day.”

One player, Cheteshwar Pujara, was called “Steve” rather than his name being pronounced properly.

During his second spell, captain Gary Ballance said in front of players and coaches, “Why are you talking to him, he’s not a sheikh, he hasn’t got oil.”

Rafiq labelled this as “disgusting” and the atmosphere became “toxic”. According to Rafiq everyone knew what was happening, but “no one did anything about it.”

He was also labelled Kevin—something Ballance used to describe anyone of colour. Another England player Alex Hales later named his dog Kevin as it was black.

Rafiq said Ballance “would constantly talk down to me and make racist jokes”. He said these were “to undermine me and make me feel small”.

Rafiq, who is Muslim, said he started drinking “to fit in”.

Disgracefully, Rafiq said he was pinned down while playing for his local cricket club at 15 and had red wine poured down his throat. Someone who played for YCCC was involved.

Rafiq added, “At YCCC, it was never forced, but there was an entrenched drinking culture which had the effect of isolating Muslim Asian players. If you didn’t drink, you didn’t fit in.”

He alleged that YCCC’s director Martyn Moxon “tore a strip” off him when he returned after the loss of his child. He described this treatment as “inhuman” after the stillbirth of his son, which culminated in suicidal thoughts.

Rafiq has also accused coach Andrew Gale of “bullying”. He said, “Throughout my time at YCCC, Andrew called me ‘Raffa the Kaffir’, ‘Paki’ and so on.

“But it was the discriminatory treatment and bullying I felt from him that was harder for me than the name calling.” This included aggressive and rude treatment towards him.


Rafiq says he asked the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Professional Cricketers’ Association to step in, but neither organisation wanted to.

When asked by MPs whether he lost his career as a result of racism he replied, “Yes.”

In his evidence to MPs, former YCCC chairman Roger Hutton, who resigned on 5 November, was asked whether he thought the club was institutionally racist. “I fear that it falls within the definition,” he said.

A supposedly independent report into racism was commissioned by YCCC last year.

According to Hutton, the original terms of the investigation were altered in April 2021 to prevent judgements about YCCC being institutionally racist.

Meanwhile the Colin Graves Trust—with the power to bankrupt YCCC—tried to block Hutton’s attempts to remove Moxon and YCCC chief executive Mark Arthur.

This scandal is a sharp rebuffing of the government’s argument in the Sewell report that there was no evidence of “institutional racism” in Britain. Rafiq’s treatment alone shows that the Tories’ denials of institutional racism were an attempt to cover how widespread and deep-rooted it is. 

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