sport news Yorkshire racism scandal: Cruel culture that's hidden beneath the cloak of ...

sport news Yorkshire racism scandal: Cruel culture that's hidden beneath the cloak of ...
sport news Yorkshire racism scandal: Cruel culture that's hidden beneath the cloak of ...

The evidence was damning, yet not surprising. The picture Azeem Rafiq painted of English cricket culture, from the lowliest clubhouse to the England dressing room and upwards to the executive floors of Yorkshire and the ECB, will be recognisable to anyone who has experience of the game, at any level.

The initiations, the jokes that aren’t, the blind eyes turned, the opportunities for change missed. Rafiq’s testimony was a litany of failings and flaws, a small number well-intentioned, far too many malevolent and cruel.

The wrongs begin in a car, travelling from a club game with Barnsley while still a schoolboy. Rafiq is a passenger because he is too young to drive. He’s 15.

Azeem Rafiq gave evidence before a DCMS select committee on Tuesday in Westminster

Despite this and despite a religious faith that makes the consumption of alcohol illegal, he is held and red wine forced down his throat by a senior cricketer, one who represented Yorkshire and Hampshire.

So that is the culture at root, ingrained and unremarkable. Liberties can be taken, respect and human dignity pushed aside.

Words do not have impact or meaning, everything is permitted beneath the cloak of banter. Asked why so many of his colleagues have no memory of the many insults and humiliations, Rafiq had settled regretfully on his explanation. They probably don’t remember it, he said, because it doesn’t mean anything to them.

That is a lot kinder than calling Michael Vaughan a liar, or sneering that Joe Root would toe the company line to the end. He could have done either.

If anything, the absence of vengeance in his demeanour made it all appear worse. He seemed such a decent, believable man. Not greatly motivated by the desire to see heads mounted on poles, or the ruination of brash individuals now in retreat.

What Rafiq wanted most of all was for his sport to change, for it to admit the mountain of mistakes, to learn and move on.

What Rafiq wanted most was for cricket to change, to admit the mistakes, to learn and move on

What Rafiq wanted most was for cricket to change, to admit the mistakes, to learn and move on

He actually spoke rather positively of Matthew Hoggard simply because, when the whole sorry mess became public, the former England man had the integrity to call him and apologise.

Given it transpires it was Hoggard who coined the nickname ‘Raffa the kaffir’ — Rafiq says at first he had no idea kaffir was a racist slur left over from apartheid-era South Africa — his acceptance seems an act of enormous graciousness.

Then again, as Rafiq admitted, it is very hard to accept you are the victim of prejudice, that a promising career will go nowhere because the world is set against you, that you have, quite literally, no chance with some people and that these are often the people who matter.

Yet to get this far, Rafiq has had to acknowledge that throughout his young life he was the victim of a vile conspiracy — and doomed. And that when he finally came to terms with this, no one in authority, at Yorkshire or the ECB, cared enough to act beyond saving their own skin or hiding behind process. Not even the chief executive Tom Harrison, who recently shared a £2.1million bonus for ‘spreading the game’. Much as one might manure.

Rafiq (centre) celebrates with former team-mates Joe Root (left) and Gary Ballance (right) as Yorkshire seal promotion to Division One in 2012

Rafiq (centre) celebrates with former team-mates Joe Root (left) and Gary Ballance (right) as Yorkshire seal promotion to Division One in 2012

Rafiq was by far the most impressive figure in that committee room on Tuesday. 

More eloquent than many of the mediocre minds asking the questions — Steve Brine and Alex Davies-Jones, good grief — certainly more relevant to the future of the game than the men and women answering them.

Incredibly, when the story about the red wine at 15 was told, nobody thought to link it with a culture that pervades the sport all the way to the England dressing room.

Gary Ballance, 23

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