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Yorkshire promise independent review in wake of Azeem Rafiq's claims of institutional racism

Response from chairman to damaging claims from former player about club culture

Headingley from the West Stand, Specavers Championship Division One, Yorkshire v Notts, April 20, 2018

Headingley from the West Stand  •  Getty Images

Yorkshire has promised a full independent inquiry, as well as a wider review into its policies and culture, in the wake of Azeem Rafiq's claims that he had been driven to the "brink of suicide" by institutional racism within the club.
In an interview with ESPNcricinfo on Wednesday, Rafiq expanded on similar comments made to and the Cricket Badger podcast, and highlighted how the lack of diversity within the Yorkshire dressing room had made him a target, including from senior players and one captain whom he stated was "openly racist".
In addition, he claimed that the club had treated him coldly in the wake of a family tragedy, releasing him from his contract shortly after his son was still-born, despite having claimed they would look after him "professionally and personally".
Now aged 29, and pursuing a career away from cricket, Rafiq added that he had chosen to speak out to "prevent anyone else feeling the same pain".
"Any allegation of this nature is hugely concerning to everyone from the board to the playing staff here, and we take the reports very seriously," read a statement from Roger Hutton, Yorkshire's chairman, following widespread calls, including from ESPNcricinfo, for a public response to Rafiq's comments.
"On Monday this week the club took the decision to launch a formal investigation into the specific allegations made by Azeem Rafiq, and a wider review of YCCC's policies and culture," Hutton added. "We are in the process of finalising the structure of this investigation and we will be approaching impartial external parties to be part of the review to ensure complete transparency. Further announcements will be made to detail this process in the coming days.
"We fully acknowledge that just as in many walks of life, sport, including cricket and Yorkshire as a club, must do better to fully promote a culture of zero tolerance to racism or any form of prejudice."
Rafiq's comments are especially damaging to Yorkshire given the club's recent efforts to reach out to its local Asian communities - not least in Bradford, where the historic Park Avenue ground was recently restored in a multi-million pound initiative to serve as an outground for county fixtures, and a hub for the local parks cricket scene.
However, Rafiq, who grew up in Barnsley and in 2012 led Yorkshire in a T20 against Durham to become the youngest captain in the club's history, claimed that his story - which has been used as a symbol of the club's desire to embrace the ethnic diversity in the county's urban areas - did not reflect the realities within the dressing room.
"Look at the facts and figures," he said. "Look at a squad photograph. Look at the coaches. How many non-white faces do you see? Despite the ethnic diversity of the cities in Yorkshire, despite the love for the game from Asian communities, how many people from those backgrounds are making it into the first team?
"It's obvious to anyone who cares that there's a problem. Do I think there is institutional racism? It's at its peak in my opinion. It's worse than it's ever been."
In the club's defence, Hutton added: "We accepted a long time ago that change was needed at Headingley to improve diversity, especially in terms of racial inclusivity. Since 2014 we've prioritised community engagement with numerous groups right across the county, and across many cultures and ethnicities. While as an organisation we've made real efforts to that end, we are not perfect and it's a work in progress.
"As a player and former captain, Azeem was extremely highly respected and well regarded by the club and its supporters alike. Azeem was a gifted bowler and a respected leader of our team, and that was why he became the first British South Asian captain of the Yorkshire T20 side, and the youngest ever captain of the team.
"We have tried to make contact with Azeem this week to discuss his experiences, and will make further contact in the weeks ahead as it's important that we hear his grievances in as much detail as possible.
"The future direction of our organisation's culture will be best-shaped with the understanding and the input of players, staff and supporters from all minorities and genders, and we will continue this process with the formal investigation that will start in a matter of days and be conducted thoroughly, impartially, and with urgency."