Azeem Rafiq: Cricket in denial over racism allegations

Since giving evidence to the DCMS committee, Rafiq says he has been subject to threats and seen stories planted in the media about him, forcing him to flee to Pakistan. He believes there are people who think cricket is the victim


Azeem Rafiq has issued a scathing assessment of cricket's response to allegations of racism, telling MPs at the latest Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee hearing that the sport is still "in denial".

Furthermore, the former Yorkshire captain believes the only change which has occurred since his first appearance in front of the committee 13 months ago is that he and his family have been forced to leave the country.  

After being "hounded six or seven times a week by the press" in addition to family properties and businesses being targeted by members of the public, Rafiq returned to Pakistan earlier in 2022.

"Challenging, really difficult," he replied when asked to sum up the last 13 months since his testimony.

"I think everyone saw I'm quite an emotional person. The one thing I wanted to do was come here and not be as emotional. I spoke out but the impact on my mum and dad, wife and kids, that's the only thing that's changed – I've left the country.


Rafiq rocked English cricket last year when he spoke of his experiences at Yorkshire (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

"There was a point in the summer where, because of the constant pressure – there were times when we were getting hounded six or seven times a week by the press, stories, same allegations, ever-changing details – it's had a huge impact on everyone. Moving abroad is not an easy thing.

"I would love to come here and tell you how much cricket has changed, but unfortunately, what it feels like is that cricket is very much in denial. There are still a group of people out there who feel like cricket is the victim in this." 

Taking aim at the Yorkshire Post and the ECB, whom he believes have created an atmosphere which will discourage whistle-blowers from coming forward in the future, he added: "It feels very much like the cricket establishment needs to make it about me. I think a lot of that was to stop other people coming forward.  

"We talk about all these hotlines and whistle-blowing, but what environment have we created for the whistle-blower? Over the last couple of months, I've received 24/7 security from the ECB. If I was to pick one reason why all this has happened, unfortunately, I would have to say it was the Yorkshire Post's writing.  

"At times, I've felt that even the ECB has been involved in leaking or planting some of the stories that have come out against me. My medical information has been shared at different times, my data has been shared openly with a lot of people. That, for me, is very alarming."

"The person who apologised lost his job. That's not going to encourage anyone else to come forward and accept they've got things wrong"

Following Rafiq's allegations of racism at Headingley, which were first brought to light in 2020 and were later the subject of a DCMS hearing in November 2021, there were sweeping changes at the club, with Lord Kamlesh Patel brought in as chairman and 16 members of staff, including head coach Andrew Gale, being removed.

David Lloyd and Rafiq's former teammates Michael Vaughan and Gary Ballance were also among the high-profile names implicated in his testimonies, with the former leaving his role as a commentator at Sky Sports in the aftermath.

Rafiq, however, believes this actually did more harm than good by discouraging people from owning up to their mistakes.  

Drawing on his own experiences of being embraced and educated by the Jewish community when his own antisemitic messages came to light, Rafiq said: "[Lloyd] rang me straight away as soon as I came out of here. He sent me a message; we had a good chat.


David Lloyd left Sky in December - a month after Azeem gave evidence (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

"With his profile and how loved he is, he could play a big part in actually moving the conversation on to a positive. I compare it to the way the Jewish community did with me.

"The person who apologised lost his job. That's not going to encourage anyone else to come forward and accept they've got things wrong. We've got to get this conversation to a place where we can take the fear out of these conversations. It's not just a one-way street.  

"I felt if they'd stuck with him, I felt possible 13 months on today the conversation could have been a bit better."

As for where the line falls between banter and racism, Rafiq is clear: "One man's banter is another person's divide. I was called a P*** not just in the dressing room but in public places. In the end, bar staff were calling me the P-word. 


Azeem was appearing in front of the DCMS committee alongside Jahid Ahmed (DCMS)

"It's just not banter. Banter is used as an excuse to make people feel isolated."

An ECB statement read: "Since the testimony given by Azeem Rafiq to the select committee a year ago, significant action has been taken across cricket and progress has been made in tackling discrimination and making the sport more welcoming and inclusive.

"But we are well aware there remains much more work to do.

"We condemn discrimination of any form and we applaud the bravery of those including Azeem and Jahid Ahmed who have spoken out about their experiences.

"The investigations and disciplinary process regarding their allegations are complex and thorough and take considerable time given the number of allegations and parties, the extensive time period involved, and the number of potential witnesses engaged. We are working to conclude both cases as quickly as possible."

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