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I was 'bullied and targeted because of my race' Azeem Rafiq tells investigators

Former Yorkshire player gives testimony to legal team probing racism allegations

George Dobell
George Dobell
13-Nov-2020
Azeem Rafiq has spoken out about racism at Yorkshire  •  Getty Images

Azeem Rafiq has spoken out about racism at Yorkshire  •  Getty Images

Azeem Rafiq has told the legal firm investigating his allegations of racism at Yorkshire that he was "bullied and targeted because of my race" while representing the club.
Rafiq, who followed his statement by appearing before the investigation team by video link on November 13 to field questions, also claimed Asian players were sometimes referred to as "Pakis" or "elephant washers" and that he experienced non-white players being told to "go back to where you came from".
He also reiterated the claim he had previously made to ESPNcricinfo that the experience left him "feeling suicidal" and played a significant part in ending his career.
His damning statement also refers to "communication" which he alleges "reflected broader conversations and club culture" which stated "only a few Pakis are okay to go through. We cannot have too many of them".
It goes on to express discomfort about the "drinking culture at the club and within cricket" and the "peer pressure to participate" amid general "insensitivity towards Muslim players and supporters". This, Azeem says, includes "incidents of racist comments" from the team's supporters and "incidents of alcohol being thrown at matches, including on Asian supporters, which were not investigated or properly addressed".
He claims he was "ridiculed" for not drinking and was excluded from social events as a result. He says not "becoming part of that social scene very much reflected on how I was treated in the dressing room and on the field" so he "gave into social pressure".
"It was so important to me to feel accepted, to not feel isolated, to not feel shunned, I was letting go of those values that were so important to me by consuming alcohol," Rafiq said. "Subconsciously, I was being made to change who I was, not because it was required for me to become the best sportsman in my field… but simply for the reason of being in an environment that would not leave me isolated."
Rafiq goes on to outline examples of "racist comments" disguised as "banter" he experienced. He describes this as "constant abuse" which led him to "feel worthless and totally isolated". He says he raised his concerns with the club but "nothing was done" to address them.
He said he could only estimate 60 days where "I have enjoyed playing cricket with the club where I have not had to endure abuse".
He continued: "The remainder of my time at the club has been filled with many dark moments where I have been left isolated, lonely, bullied and targeted because of my race. If my race had not played a part in this treatment, I would have witnessed other British white players treated in the same manner.
"I was singled out specifically because I was Asian. It was as if I was being reprimanded for my race by engaging with white players as if to remind me that it was not my place, that I did not belong with them."
Yorkshire launched the investigation in September after Rafiq's interview with ESPNcricinfo. It is being run by the legal firm, Squire Patton Boggs, with a sub-committee that includes several prominent figures within the British-Asian cricket community appointed to review the information.
The club have previously expressed the hope that the panel will complete their report before the end of the year, though issues with the composition of the sub-committee may have caused delays. Rafiq's legal team raised concerns over two members of the panel, neither of whom remain on it, saying he had previously registered his concerns with them and was underwhelmed by the lack of response. The club have also declined to publish the terms of reference of the enquiry and dismissed concerns of conflict of interest despite the fact the club chairman, Roger Hutton, used to work for Squire Patton Boggs.
"I have spoken out about the racism I faced because I don't want kids to go through what I did," Rafiq, who has launched a Crowd Justice page to help cover his legal costs, said in the statement. "I want to see kids starting off their journey in cricket in a culture of acceptance and respect, where they are judged on their talent and not on their culture and identity.
"I hope that the investigation will result in meaningful change at the club and in the sport. I am grateful for the outpouring of support and words of encouragement I have received, in particular from parents who have shared their concerns about how their kids have been treated and who want to see change."
In a statement issued on Friday, Yorkshire County Cricket Club said: "We have taken the claims made by our former player, Azeem Rafiq, very seriously and a full investigation conducted by Squire Patton Boggs, an independent law firm, began in September. Mr Rafiq's written statement was made available last week and he will give further verbal evidence today. These statements will then be made available to the club to provide a response to as part of the next phase of the process.
"We realise that that this is a difficult time for all parties involved but it is important that these matters are investigated thoroughly and swiftly.
"In addition, and recognising that this process is as much about the future as it is the past, we have convened an independent panel to support the investigation and to publish recommendations on steps the club may need to take as a result of the investigation's findings. Chaired by Dr Samir Pathak, surgeon and trustee of the MCC Foundation, the panel includes Mesba Ahmed, vice Chairman of the National Asian Cricket Council, employment barrister Rehana Azib, former Waitrose Personnel Director Helen Hyde and Stephen Willis, CFO of Durham University and the senior independent director of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
"Racism has no place in our society or in cricket and we are hopeful that the outcome of this investigation and the recommendations of the panel will drive positive progress which can be shared by all."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo