Azeem Rafiq: Is English cricket institutionally racist?

Over the last two weeks Yorkshire Cricket Club have careered headlong into chaos completely of their own making.

The handling of the situation regarding former player Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of racist abuse has been nothing short of shambolic as the report released by Yorkshire claimed that the use of the word p*** was “banter”. Former England batsman and friend of Azeem Rafiq, Garry Ballance, has apologised for using the word, claiming that he did not realise he had caused “distress to such a good friend”. The lack of accountability by the Club has caused Ballance to receive the brunt of the scandal, and although he has at least admitted to his wrongdoings, his actions still remain inexcusable. This absence of responsibility by Yorkshire questions the Club’s seriousness to evoke change regarding racial harassment in domestic cricket.

Roger Hutton, who was only appointed as chairman of Yorkshire in 2020, has since resigned and criticised the England Cricket Board (ECB) and senior management of the Club for a “lack of contrition”. Former England Test captain Michael Vaughan, named in the report, has denied using racist language towards players of the British Asian community in 2009. The now BBC analyst and commentator was alleged to have said “there’s too many of you lot, we need to do something about it”, and this claim has been backed by former Yorkshire overseas professional and Pakistani fast bowler Rana Naved-ul-Hasan.

Roger Hutton has resigned as chairman of Yorkshire Cricket Club since the racism scandal.

Image Credit: The Telegraph

The ECB has stripped Headingly of its rights to host any major games including Test matches and the Hundred which will have huge financial ramifications for not only the cricket club, but for businesses in the surrounding area. Yorkshire have appointed Lord Kamlesh Patel of Bradford as their new chair who has praised Rafiq for speaking out. Rafiq also recently spoke in front of the DCMS (Department of Culture, Media, and Sport) on the 16th of November which provided an emotional testimony of the racist abuse he experienced whilst at Yorkshire. 

This incident has brought to light a wider issue in the game regarding the treatment of players from various ethnic groups. England international Moeen Ali said he was “not surprised” by the scandal and that he hoped it would lead to more players who have suffered to come forward. The major issue seems to be the proportion of Asian players at grassroot level cricket compared to professional standard, as further allegations have come out concerning the treatment of Asian youth players by Yorkshire. 

Despite this shocking revelation of racism in domestic cricket, there is hope within the wider sport. The current England team is arguably the most diverse side of all time with Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali featuring heavily in the T20 as well as Haseeb Hameed in the Test side alongside players of Caribbean and South African heritage. Additionally, the ACE cricket programme is doing great work to address the lack of Black cricket players through its efforts to make the game more accessible. Women’s cricket is also growing exponentially after a successful Hundred tournament which had a record-breaking number of spectators attending. 

English cricket upholds an image of being played primarily by white privately educated men, and although efforts are being made to change this, it will not happen overnight. Cricket is a game for everyone that should be accessible and enjoyed by all. 

Image Credit: Sky News