GEORGE DOBELL - COMMENTARY: A worse look for cricket would be to avoid such hearings. A worse look would be the sport continuing to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to such events
It was the sight nobody wanted to see: a much admired former England captain in the dock and a much admired England cricketer giving evidence against him.
Even Azeem Rafiq, whose allegations of racism at Yorkshire led us to this point, agrees the charges against Michael Vaughan, which saw him facing the scrutiny of the Cricket Discipline Commission in recent days, are on the lower end of the scale of discriminatory behaviour he experienced at Yorkshire.
And even Azeem, who always said he wanted to focus on institutions not individuals, wanted to avoid this sort of show trial where the real issues can become obscured and positions polarised. Nobody was pretending this was one of the better weeks of their careers. And nobody is pretending that, whether the charge against Vaughan is upheld or not, it is going to give us a much clearer insight into what happened at Yorkshire.
Yet for all the hand-wringing and recriminations this is - more or less - how justice works. It's messy, muddy and imperfect, but it beats the alternative.
And what is that alternative? It's a world where the rich, famous or influential can avoid such scrutiny. A world where there are no ramifications. No sanctions. And no change.
A worse look for cricket would be to avoid such hearings. A worse look would be the sport continuing to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to such events in the knowledge that any attempt to confront them would result in just such an uncomfortable scenario. It might not have felt like it, but this hearing was what progress looks like.
A view of the outside of Headingley Stadium in Leeds [Getty Images]
In years to come, we may view this as Azeem's legacy to the game. To let everyone know, in the boardroom or the changing room, in the stands or in the nets, that the game isn't going to look the other way any more. Whatever the verdicts in the coming weeks, there is value in this. The boat needed rocking.
You might conclude that the CDC process has already had value. It brought out an admission from Matthew Hoggard, for example, that the P word was "widely used throughout the squad". It brought an admission from Gary Ballance, a former club captain, that he had referred to Azeem as a "P***." It confirmed that people of colour were routinely spoken to in a demeaning and discriminatory manner, including terms like 'Elephant Washer,' 'Raffa the Kafir’ and 'Token Black Man'. All these expressions were used relatively openly - on the team bus, in the dressing room and at bars and restaurants - without anyone intervening or challenging it. And we know the club declined to investigate or take action when complaints were made.
These details matter. They show how grim the culture was and how much needed to change. They go a vast way to vindicating the allegations made by Azeem. It remains a scandal that it has taken five-and-a-half years from the moment Azeem and Adil Rashid first made complaints about racism for this hearing to take place. It reflects poorly on the club, the PCA (the players' union) and the culture of the sport. The CDC hearings are a small step towards putting that right.
"These hearings are not a waste of time or resource. They're a painful necessity of a sport that is grappling with its past and trying to become more inclusive and responsible
You wouldn't necessarily know this from some of the media coverage, though. It is extraordinary how certain narratives have been allowed to take root"
It is often repeated, for example, that Yorkshire's attitude towards the employment tribunal proceedings with Azeem changed the day that Kamlesh Patel was appointed as chair.
It's not true. Actually, the club - at the time run by Roger Hutton and Mark Arthur - made several settlement offers to Azeem long before Patel replaced them. These offers, first made in June 2021, were for six-figure sums. They were declined because they required Azeem to sign a non-disclosure agreement and he just wouldn't do that.
Patel waived that requirement. But he wasn't the first to make a six-figure offer, and the suggestion he was is demonstrably false.
Equally, it has been reported many times in recent weeks that respondents in these hearings were charged without any dialogue with the ECB. But evidence shows this to be untrue. They were notified. They were invited to interviews and invited to put forward a response. And in not correcting that narrative, we risk disingenuously undermining the credibility of these hearings.
Azeem Rafiq arrives at the Cricket Disciplined Commission hearings on March 1, 2023 [Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images]
There's nothing new in that, though. Remember those 14 people who were sacked by Yorkshire after signing a letter which spelt out their resistance to culture change? One or two of them have been vocal in the media in claiming they were sacked without a chance to speak to Patel. They were actually invited to two (in some cases three) meetings with Patel and other members of the management.
How many times last week did you read that six of Vaughan's teammates in that 2009 game had claimed they didn't hear the "you lot" comment? They might have told Vaughan that. They might even have told his lawyer, Paul Lunt, who mentioned such in his testimony to the hearing. But not one of them appeared as a witness at the hearing, or offered the ECB a witness statement.
Meanwhile, Patel is alleged, repeatedly, to have claimed "he was acting on ECB instructions when sacking 16 members of staff at Yorkshire." But what he actually said [in a recorded interview with Eastern Eye] was: "I was asked by the ECB to ensure some people who were there from the previous regime did not take part in that governance process." Which isn't the same thing at all, is it?
Actually, he was asked to ensure the influence of Colin Graves and his trustees was diminished in the new governance system at the club. But the attempts to discredit Patel are relentless. It really isn't that hard to see why so many people of colour feel the game doesn't welcome them.
So, why have these narratives taken hold? Well, they could be genuine mistakes. And it could be that some of those accused, or at least their representatives, have been successful in confusing the situation.
Michael Vaughan pictured outside the CDC hearings into racism allegations in 2023 [Justin Tallis/Getty Images]
But it might also be because some still seem intent on diminishing the extent of the problem and discrediting the individuals involved. It might be that this is exactly what institutional racism looks like.
Azeem's experiences of racism are not, sadly, unusual. Many other people of colour will tell you they have experienced similar name-calling, exclusion and discrimination. What is really unusual about Azeem is that he would not be silenced by the pay-outs, the threats or the frustrations of the institutions which refuse to listen or act. When you witness it in action, you understand why others are silenced.
That is why these hearings are not a waste of time or resource. They're a painful necessity of a sport that is grappling with its past and trying to become more inclusive and responsible. We need to go through this. The alternative is much, much worse.