Gary Ballance apologises for 'racist' language towards Azeem Rafiq

Former England batter issues statement after meeting with Rafiq organised by PCA

Gary Ballance in the field, 3rd day, Yorkshire vs Sussex, County Championship, Headingley, June 3, 2021

Gary Ballance has not played for Yorkshire since last season  •  George Wood/PA Images via Getty Images

Gary Ballance has issued an unreserved apology for using "racist" language towards Azeem Rafiq when the two were team-mates at Yorkshire.
ESPNcricinfo revealed last year that the use of the word "P**i" by a player - subsequently identified as Ballance - when referring to Rafiq had been deemed "banter" by an independent report into allegations of racism at Yorkshire. Ballance at the time expressed his "regret" but said the language used came in the context of "a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other".
Ballance is one of seven individuals at Yorkshire charged by the ECB, alongside the club itself, after an investigation into the revelations that followed Rafiq's emotional testimony before parliament in November 2021.
It was reported by The Cricketer that Ballance and Rafiq spoke earlier this week in a meeting facilitated by the Professional Cricketers' Association. Ballance, who has not played at all this season due to ongoing mental health issues, subsequently released a statement through Yorkshire.
"I have wanted to meet Azeem in person for quite some time, but I had to make sure I was in a good place when I did so," Ballance said. "Azeem has been through similar mental health challenges and understands why this has taken me a little time.
"I apologise unreservedly to Azeem for the words I used when we played together. I did use unacceptable - at times, racist - language. If I had realised how much this hurt Azeem, I would have stopped immediately. That's why I wanted to meet him this week and be clear in person that I intended no malice. That's not an excuse, I realise that the language I used was wrong.
"I have accepted, from the outset, the words I used were wrong and I hope this statement brings Azeem some comfort. There is no place in our sport for this behaviour and I am determined to play my part in ridding the game from racism and make it more inclusive. To do this we all need to be honest and learn from our past mistakes."
Rafiq told The Cricketer that he had accepted Ballance's apology and said that his "courage means he is now part of the solution" in the fight against the problem of racism within the game.
"From day one of opening up about my experiences, all I ever wanted was acceptance and apologies for what happened," Rafiq said. "Gary has been brave to admit the truth and I understand why the mental strain has made it difficult for him to make this apology any sooner. Gary must be applauded for his honesty and unreserved apology and must now be allowed to get on with his life."
Ballance has been in action for Yorkshire's 2nd XI this summer, but his previous first-team appearance came in September 2021. It was reported earlier this month that he was considering switching his international allegiance back to Zimbabwe, the country of his birth, but ESPNcricinfo understands that there has been no contact with Zimbabwe Cricket.