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Azeem Rafiq feels 'massive weight' lift after giving evidence of racist abuse

Former player hopes his harrowing account to parliamentary committee is a "watershed moment"

Azeem Rafiq felt "a massive weight off my shoulders" following his devastating testimony to a parliamentary hearing into racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Rafiq's evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee on Tuesday recounted shocking instances of racist treatment he suffered during two stints at the club from 2008-14 and 2016-18 and even before when, as a 15-year-old Muslim playing local club cricket, he was pinned down and had red wine poured down his throat. Rafiq, who was a hugely promising player, also told the hearing that he believed he had "lost my career to racism".
Speaking on Wednesday, Rafiq revealed his family had wholeheartedly supported him in the aftermath of a gruelling morning telling his story to MPs.
"I'm incredibly relieved, like a massive weight off my shoulders," Rafiq told the BBC. "It's really important that the game, and wider society listens to the experiences and we don't let this moment go on and we try and use this moment as a real watershed moment for the future.
"The only thing I was nervous about going in yesterday was, 'I don't want to cry, I don't want to cry, I don't want to cry.' And within the first sentence I started crying, so yeah, look, it's still very raw, incredibly raw.
"I spoke to my dad last night. He was just really proud of me and he said, look, all that, no runs or wickets could have done what I did yesterday and I should be really proud of myself."
Reflecting on what might have been for his playing career, Rafiq had told the committee that he hoped to one day be able to take solace from having affected real change through telling his story. On Wednesday, he reiterated his hope that more victims would feel empowered to come forward and speak out.
"I'm sure that it is going to be floodgates," Rafiq said. "I've spoken to a few people even since yesterday, and all I would say is, you've got to be honest and you've got to come forward and get it off your chest. Hopefully after yesterday people will be believed and heard a lot more and people can take confidence from that. I know I was left on my own from every angle possible, I'll make sure, whoever comes forward, that I'm there with them."
While the DCMS hearing probed Yorkshire's handling of a report into Rafiq's allegations of institutional racism at the club, English cricket has been plunged into crisis as more allegations emerge. Two former Essex players have alleged in recent days that they suffered racist abuse, and Rafiq told the hearing he had been contacted by people connected to at least three more clubs wanting to talk about their experiences.
Cindy Butts, chair of the ECB-appointed Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC), which was established as a result of Rafiq's case, told The Telegraph that more than 1,000 whistleblowers had come forward in the past week to raise potential cases of abuse after the commission issued a "call for evidence" on November 9.
"It is crucial people across the game, many likely inspired by Azeem's bravery, have the chance to be heard," Butts said.
The DCMS select committee also heard from Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, who admitted that cricket in England faced a state of emergency on the issue.
"The experiences yesterday, it wasn't the first time they heard it," Rafiq said of the ECB on Wednesday. "They've had good notice of it for over a year now. We've heard a lot of stuff from the ECB in terms of PR initiatives and a lot of waffle in my opinion.
"He [Harrison] said yesterday that they're going to change it now and fast, so I feel like he's probably got a few months where we need to see some tangible changes and I think if there's not something that changes in the next few months, then the patience is going to run out.
"I'm very determined that this is going to be looked back on as the moment where not only sport but society as a whole went in a different direction to what it's been going."