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Sacked staff seek legal action after racism crisis prompts Yorkshire purge

Culled staff had written to board deploring reputational damage Rafiq allegations had inflicted on club

David Hopps
David Hopps
An anti-racism banner hangs outside Headingley  •  AFP/Getty Images

An anti-racism banner hangs outside Headingley  •  AFP/Getty Images

The 16 members of Yorkshire's coaching and backroom staff who were sacked this week are expected to seek legal advice on Monday, as a club that has long specialised in internal strife braces itself for the deepest crisis in its history.
Even allowing for the widespread acceptance that change at Yorkshire was necessary in the wake of Azeem Rafiq's allegations of institutional racism, the purge of the club's coaching and medical staff has left many in the county in a state of shock. Where there was briefly talk of a brave new world of inclusivity and enlightenment, there is now more division, hurt and punishment. Legal action, or potential pay-offs running into millions of pounds, and player departures in protest are all possible outcomes as the affair spirals out of control.
The charge levelled against many of the 16 sacked staff members is that they jointly wrote a letter to the Yorkshire board on October 14. In that letter, seen by ESPNcricinfo, they deplored the reputational damage being done to the club, questioned why Rafiq's claims had not been rebutted, and further accused Rafiq of being "on a one-man mission to bring down the club and, with it, people of genuine integrity". They spoke of the "grossly unfair" criticism of the former chief executive, Mark Arthur, and director of cricket, Martyn Moxon, and said that the allegations were "having a profound effect on us all, physically, emotionally and psychologically".
The letter makes no concessions as to Yorkshire's treatment of Rafiq, who told ESPNcricinfo last year that he had been driven "to the brink of suicide" during his time at the club; in fact, it doubles down on his reputation as a troublemaker ("problematic in the dressing room and a complete liability off the field"), and seeks to defend the name of Yorkshire cricket and the "White Rose" culture that Rafiq called into question during his emotional testimony to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee last month.
For the likes of Lord Kamlesh Patel, the county's new chairman, and the ECB - for whom the Yorkshire crisis is a direct threat to their attempts to promote diversity and to ensure that the game is universally recognised as offering fair opportunities for all - this private appeal to the board appears now to have been regarded as ample evidence of an unwillingness to change. However, in the event of legal action, it may fall well short of constituting gross misconduct.
The best-known names on the redundancy roll are the club's coach, Andrew Gale, and the director of cricket, Moxon, who has been a popular character in Yorkshire cricket for most of the past 40 years, and who was on sick leave before his sacking. Moxon has been deeply affected by general allegations of racism, and there is general fury within Yorkshire cricket circles that despite his illness, he was labelled "a coward" by Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS committee, for not appearing before their investigation last month.
Among the other casualties are Paul Grayson, the batting coach who returned to the club less than three years ago, when Rafiq had already left, and so unless other evidence comes to light he can hardly be implicated in his allegations; and Dr Nigel Mayers, the club's medical officer, who has served the club for most of the century and who has committed much of his life to working in Kirkstall, a diverse Leeds ward. Wayne Morton, head of sports science and medicine, has gone, too - a man who once had to be pulled out of the crowd at Scarborough for his own safety after confronting a group of spectators who had been throwing bananas at the black Gloucestershire fast bowler, David 'Syd' Lawrence.
By midweek, an emergency director of cricket is expected to have been appointed - there is even talk of Darren Gough, who has minimal coaching experience and who has spent the past decade as a sports radio host - supported by a skeleton staff which is being assembled with the help of the ECB.
Rafiq's claims of racial mistreatment have taken a wrecking ball to Yorkshire cricket, with sponsors abandoning the club in the wake of the allegations and the ECB suspending the county from hosting major matches. Many within the club suspect that the imposition of an ECB-approved emergency staff could be a means of ensuring an early return of international cricket to Headingley.
Either way, the dismissal of individuals with not far short of 300 years' service to Yorkshire, and the county's apparent scapegoating as English cricket's bad apple, would appear to draw attention away from the sport's long-term failures in the development of minority-ethnic cricketers, a widespread and complex issue. But in a febrile social media world, with a culture war at its height, general postures are adopted in an instant with little care for specific facts.
Yorkshire's playing staff have held an emergency meeting with Lord Patel, but his conciliatory remarks upon taking up the role, including assurances that the club was seeking a quick return to stability and normality, now seem very much at odds with the mass dismissals. He had promised in a media conference "urgent and seismic change" and that is what he has delivered. Players' talk of finding new counties are often not followed up - and many counties' budgets are already spent - but the mood is an unhappy one.
Lord Patel is not the only person in this drama to now be accused by those he has dispensed with of duplicitous behaviour. The former chairman of Yorkshire and the ECB, Colin Graves, whose family trust is owed nearly £20 million by Yorkshire, has an investment to protect. And Roger Hutton, the former chair, and the one person who gave evidence on behalf of Yorkshire to the DCMS committee, is also facing renewed accusations that he mishandled an investigation that should have been settled in weeks, but has now stretched for well over a year. Hutton, for his part, told the DCMS hearing that he felt the club's culture had been "stuck in the past", and that his resignation back in August, in the wake of the club's "profound apologies" to Rafiq, would not have helped to bring about change.
Many people have bought into the view that Yorkshire's systems were institutionally racist, more by obstinate refusal to change than design, and that this had contributed to the failure to bring through Muslim cricketers from Yorkshire's inner cities. Many were appalled by Rafiq's relationship with Gary Ballance, which had racial overtones at its heart. Many, too, watched Rafiq's moving evidence to the DCMS committee and, even those who argued that he was a far from perfect individual, felt the need for change, to rid Yorkshire of this stain once and for all.
But many of those same people had signed up for a vision of a better way forward, of a vision of fairness for all, based on a commitment to education, not a full-scale coup d'etat. To express deep misgivings is uncomfortable, and risks echoing the views of the far-right, who are now sniffing round this story with a growing realization that here is a chance to sow division and disunity. But rifts could now deepen. That, in itself, is a tragedy.
Lord Patel, whose family relocated to Bradford in the early 60s when he was an infant, has an impressive CV, but his approach - endorsed how much by the ECB? - is now giving grave cause for concern. Uncompromising, implacable, adamant that only his way is the right one, and supremely confident in his own moral compass, he has revealed many of the Yorkshire attributes that over generations have caused the county so much pain.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps