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Headingley loses Emerald as title sponsor as Yorkshire racism crisis deepens

Cross-party group of MPs calls for new investigation in wake of revelations

A general view of Headingley

Yorkshire's crisis has deepened following the withdrawal of the club's title sponsor  •  Getty Images

A series of sponsors of Yorkshire County Cricket Club - including Emerald Group, the title sponsor at Headingley Stadium, and long-term partners Yorkshire Tea - have cut their ties with the club in protest at their handling of the Azeem Rafiq racism case, while a group of Yorkshire MPs have signed a letter calling on the ECB to launch a new investigation into the club's handling of the affair.
The crisis engulfing the county comes after ESPNcricinfo revealed details of the report into Rafiq's claims of institutional racism, in particular the conclusion that the use of the word "P**i" could be perceived as "banter". It is a revelation that led Sajid Javid, the UK health secretary, to call for "heads to roll" in a reply to the story on Twitter.
The club's chairman, Roger Hutton, has since been called to appear before the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee, along with two senior executives, Mark Arthur and Martyn Moxon. Rafiq is also expected to give evidence on November 16, where parliamentary privilege may enable him to divulge further details that have yet to come to light.
The damaging revelations have now persuaded one of Yorkshire's most prominent sponsors, Emerald Group, to end their four-year naming-rights deal at Headingley.
"We have today taken the decision to remove our brand association with Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Headingley Stadium," read a press release.
"We do not tolerate any form of racism or discriminatory behaviour and the damaging effects this has. Our intention remains to continue a financial commitment to the stadium itself, which is also the home of Leeds Rhinos rugby, as we believe this supports the aims of diversity and inclusion in sport along with a range of charitable community endeavours.
"Emerald will however no longer sponsor Yorkshire County Cricket Club. We hope that YCCC will listen and respond with serious action to eradicate racism from the club and uphold the values we all expect."
In a subsequent press release, Yorkshire Tea announced that it too would be ending its association with the club with immediate effect. Anchor Butter is another brand that has confirmed, via Twitter, that it will have "no further activity" in support of the club.
"We were upset to read about the experiences of Azeem Rafiq during his time at Yorkshire County Cricket Club," read Yorkshire Tea's statement. "We wholeheartedly believe that cricket should be a sport for everyone, but his experiences and the way the panel report has been handled don't reflect that.
"Our current partnership with YCCC was naturally coming to an end but we have taken the decision to end it with immediate effect."
The political pressure on Yorkshire has also been ramped up in an open letter, signed by a cross-party group of 34 local politicians, including the mayors of South and West Yorkshire, Dan Jarvis and Tracy Brabin.
"The disgraceful treatment of Azeem Rafiq has brought Yorkshire County Cricket Club into disrepute," wrote Jarvis, who is also the MP for Barnsley Central. "It's appalling that anyone has to suffer racist abuse in the workplace, and then for that abuse to be repeatedly dismissed as 'banter' is utterly unacceptable.
"The English Cricket Board needs to act urgently to rectify these failures, eradicate the scourge of racism from cricket and restore the reputation of cricket in Yorkshire.
"Azeem Rafiq has been courageous in speaking out and has my full support. There is no place for racism anywhere."
Brabin added: "As a county, we often celebrate our strong sporting heritage and love for cricket, however this has shamed Yorkshire Country Cricket Club and I know our communities will stand shoulder to shoulder with Azeem and be utterly embarrassed.
"Inquiries by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the English Cricket Board are welcome, but they should not have been needed."