Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) has stumbled into a self-made crisis which has been decades in the making.
Azeem Rafiq (pictured), a Pakistani-born Yorkshire cricketer who played for the club in two stints from 2008 to 2018, suffered racist discrimination and bullying which left him close to suicide. YCCC reluctantly commissioned an independent report into Rafiq’s allegations but has refused to publish the final document. The club recently announced that no disciplinary action would be taken against those responsible for the bullying, which it accepts took place, adding that the regular use of a racial epithet (“Paki”) against Rafiq amounted to “good natured banter.”
Zimbabwe-born batsman Gary Ballance, who plays for the club, admits racial abuse against Rafiq who was also referred to as “Rafa the kaffir”.
YCCC believed it could do nothing and the scandal would be quickly forgotten.
However, sponsors began to withdraw their backing. Yorkshire Tea, Harrogate Spring Water, Tetley Beer, Nike and a number of other corporations all cut ties with YCCC. On 4 November the English Cricket Board suspended Yorkshire’s lucrative rights to stage test matches at the Headingley ground.
Yorkshire Chair, Roger Hutton, and two non-Executive directors have resigned. Hutton, a relatively new appointment, had not even bothered to meet Rafiq.
Rafiq commented, “This is about institutional racism and the abject failures to act by numerous leaders at YCCC and in the wider game.”
Until 1992 YCCC operated a rule that only people who were born in Yorkshire could play for the team. Talented Asian immigrants who had lived for most of their lives in the area, but had been born in Pakistan, were excluded.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s club cricket in Yorkshire was run on racially segregated lines (the outlines of which still exist today). The white clubs and leagues fed into the County structure. The Asian clubs even had their own competition, Quaid-e-Azam. Yorkshire only fielded their first BAME player in 1992 (the brilliant Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar). The first British-born Asian to play for Yorkshire was Ajmal Shahzad, in 2004.
Cricket writer and editor of Wisden, Matthew Engel, wrote in 1999 that an informal Apartheid exists throughout the English game and called out Yorkshire and Essex as county teams particularly blighted by racism. Talented black and Asian players living in Yorkshire often went to Lancashire or Derbyshire, looking for a route to progress. The fast bowler Devon Malcolm left Sheffield for Derby.
White players continued to deny YCCC had a problem. The unpleasant and belligerent former Yorkshire captain, Brian Close, explained the lack of black and brown faces in the Yorkshire squad by saying, “if black families had less children like the whites then they would be able to afford cricket equipment and lessons.”
English cricket as a whole is going backwards. For example, the number of black players in country cricket has dropped by 75% since 1990. The Yorkshire scandal is part of a wider crisis.