Yorkshire settle employment tribunal with Azeem Rafiq as Lord Patel takes the helm
New chairman outlines measures to restore Yorkshire's reputation amid racism crisis
Lord Kamlesh Patel, the incoming chairman of Yorkshire CCC, says that the club has offered an unreserved apology to Azeem Rafiq after settling the ex-player's long-running employment tribunal, in what he described as the "first vital step" towards becoming "a club which people can trust to do the right thing".
Speaking at a press conference at Headingley, following his unveiling as Roger Hutton's successor, Patel praised Rafiq's courage in blowing the whistle on what he had alleged was a culture of institutional racism and bullying at Yorkshire, and insisted that, after 158 years of existence, the club was "ready to change".
The tribunal had originally failed to reach a settlement in June this year, when Rafiq declined to sign a non-disclosure agreement in return for a six-figure sum. However, with the player now set to appear before a DCMS select committee hearing on November 16, Patel confirmed that the club has now waived any such demands in concluding the case.
"Absolutely no restrictions have been placed on Azeem on what he can or cannot say about his experiences," Patel said. "The settlement does not involve a non-disclosure agreement. The club was wrong to have asked Azeem to agree to an NDA in the past, and he rightly refused. And we've apologised unreservedly for previously making that demand.
"Our offer means Azeem will be free to speak about his experiences publicly. He is free to answer any questions that are put to him when he wants, and that includes the select committee hearing that's scheduled for the 16th of November."
Addressing the settlement, Rafiq said in a statement: "I want to thank Lord Patel for making the offer and sorting this out within 72 hours of his appointment. It should not have taken the rest of the club a year to realise I would not be silenced through an NDA.
"I spoke out because I wanted to create change at the club. I brought a legal claim because the club refused to acknowledge the problem and create change. For the first time that I can remember, I have hope this might happen - but I will be watching and continue to campaign to ensure that it does."
Addressing the measures already taken since the scale of the crisis became apparent to Yorkshire, Patel added that he had called for an independent whistle-blowing hotline to be set up, to "curate a safe space" for other victims of discrimination to come forward with their experiences.
"We need to listen," Patel said. "We want anyone who has suffered issues to come forward, and I've noticed that some people who have come forward recently appear to felt unable to step forward in Azeem's case.
"This hotline will provide us with important data as to where specific problems lie so that we can begin to make improvements which are desperately needed. Its independence will allow any of those who felt silenced or intimidated to come forward in a safe place."
Patel also pledged to commission a specialist independent review of Yorkshire's processes and procedures on diversity and inclusion - including discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion and disability - in the wake of the club's myriad failings in the Azeem case.
"Our fans, the cricketing world and the wider public need to trust that we are fit for purpose, and we can deal with issues in a fair and a transparent way," he said. "My aim is to work together with a range of stakeholders to do this, and this will be tied to my future action plan."
Patel further added that the controversial report into Yorkshire's racism investigation, which the club had long refused to share beyond a handful of senior employees, had now been passed on to all parties with a legal interest in the case, including Rafiq's lawyers, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the ECB, and Julian Knight, the chair of the DCMS select committee.
As to the club's immediate future, Patel acknowledged that the loss of a raft of major sponsors - including Emerald, Nike, Yorkshire Tea and Tetley's - along with the ECB's decision to suspend Yorkshire's major-match status, would create a financial "hiatus". Trevor Strain, the managing director of Morrisons and an existing board member, has been appointed as the club's chair of risk and audit.
"I can confirm that I've had discussions and meetings with the ECB about the restoration of international cricket," Patel said. "We will have to demonstrate that we are addressing the root causes of the issues, and that we are leading change before having any concrete conversations on that.
"There's much more to be done which will become clear to me in the coming days," he added. "I'm determined to make this club the beating heart of English cricket again. After 158 years, we're ready to change. We're ready to accept the past and we're ready to become a club which people can trust to do the right thing."