By Madihah Najeeb, BA Global Liberal Arts
Content warning: this article refers to racial abuse, derogatory language and racist behaviour.
English cricket has been embroiled in accusations of racism as allegations from former cricketers have revealed years of racial abuse at local cricket clubs throughout their playing careers.
Former England cricketer Azeem Rafiq has given testimony to a panel of UK Members of Parliament on the racial abuse he faced throughout his time playing for the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Rafiq has played twice for the team in 2008 and in 2018 and was a former captain for the England Under-19s team.
On 16 November 2021, Rafiq, who is of Pakistani descent, described to the panel that he had felt ‘isolated, humiliated at times’ when dealing with consistent racism from his club. He and other players from Asian backgrounds also dealt with comments such as: ‘you lot sit over there near the toilets,’ and being called ‘p*k*,’ and ‘elephant washers.’ Rafiq also narrated a traumatic event where he was pinned down and had red wine poured down his throat at his local cricket club at just 15 years old. At one point in the testimony Rafiq broke down when he described the inhuman treatment he faced when he was told his baby had no heartbeat.
“There is no two sides to a story when it comes to racism.”
The cricketer mentioned that the problem of racism in English cricket was ‘institutional’ and said, ‘when I spoke, I should have been listened to, but Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and the game as a whole, really has a problem in listening to the victim. There is no two sides to a story when it comes to racism.’ In September last year, the Yorkshire County Cricket Club launched a formal investigation and concluded that Rafiq was a victim of ‘racial harassment and bullying,’ but until now no disciplinary action has been taken. In addition, the club had regarded their use of the term ‘p*k*’ as ‘friendly banter.’
New accusations of racism have also arisen following Azeem Rafiq’s testimony with images of former cricketer for Nottingham Cricket Club, Alex Hales, in blackface. Nottinghamshire have launched an investigation into Hales’ behaviour.
Mr Rafiq says he hopes that his revelations on racism in cricket culture will serve as a ‘watershed moment for the future.’ Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday 15 November, Rafiq commented: ‘It’s really important the game and wider society listens to my experiences, and we don’t let this moment go and we try to use this as a watershed moment for the future.’ This event has enabled other victims of racial abuse in English cricket to come forward. Former Essex players Zoheb Sharif and Maurice Chambers have both alleged that they faced racial abuse at the Essex Cricket Club, with Sharif revealing that he was nicknamed a ‘bomber’ by his club members and Chambers dealing with a senior member of staff ‘reading out racist jokes in the dressing room.’ On 16 November, Sharif told BBC Sport that hearing Rafiq speak up had empowered him to talk about the racist abuse he had faced himself.
Disciplinary actions have been taken as a result of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s involvement in the allegations. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have suspended the club from hosting international cricket matches at the Headingley Stadium in Leeds. The club has also lost sponsors from brands such as Yorkshire Tea, Tetley’s Brewery and Nike. The Yorkshire County Cricket Club have also said: ‘the club is keen to work with the ECB on issues of diversity and have offered their help to the ECB on what is such an important issue for the game as a whole.’
By sharing his experience Rafiq hopes to initiate change in sport and society, saying ‘I’m very determined that this is going to be looked back as the moment that not only sport but society as a whole went in a different direction to the way it had been going.’
Photo Caption: Former Cricketer for the Yorkshire County Cricket Club Azeem Rafiq giving testimony at parliamentary enquiry over the racial abuse he faced at the club (Photo Credit: UK Parliament via The Independent).