In Focus

Racism in cricket: Yorkshire’s shame and the sport’s diversity problem

Leaked report revealed that captain Azeem Rafiq suffered years of racist abuse and bullying at the club

The racism scandal that has engulfed Yorkshire County Cricket Club is “a disaster for one of Britain’s most famous sporting institutions”, said The Times.

Last week, the Cricinfo website leaked parts of a confidential report revealing that Azeem Rafiq, the county side’s youngest-ever captain, had suffered years of racist abuse and bullying at the club, leading him to consider suicide.

It also revealed that, although the 12-month investigation upheld seven of Rafiq’s allegations of “racist and bullying” behaviour, the board took no disciplinary action. Astonishingly, the board even found that when another player, Gary Ballance, repeatedly used the word “p**i” against Rafiq, it was delivered “in the spirit of friendly banter”.

Yorkshire is facing a reckoning for its “stubborn refusal to address its longstanding problems with racism”. Sponsors including Harrogate Spring Water and Yorkshire Tea have cut their ties. Its chairman, Roger Hutton, has resigned. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has suspended Yorkshire from hosting international matches.

This rot goes to “the heart of the English game”, said Mihir Bose in The Guardian. Where football has become more racially diverse, cricket has long travelled in the opposite direction. In 2018, the ECB found that people of South Asian heritage made up one-third of recreational cricketers, but constituted a mere 4% of professional players. The number of black players in county cricket has actually dropped by 75% since 1990.

Even by these standards, though, Yorkshire Cricket has a “very particular problem”. It didn’t field its first ethnic minority player until 1992, decades after other counties. Asian cricketers were so aggrieved by the hostility they faced that they set up their own clubs and even their own tournament, the Quaid-e-Azam league.

It’s a great pity. Given Yorkshire’s racial diversity, with so many migrants from cricket-loving cultures such as India, Pakistan and the Caribbean, the club could have led the way in being inclusive.

There are some signs of hope in this sordid tale, said Murad Ahmed in the Financial Times. In 2018, the ECB launched a “South Asian action plan” with mentoring and talent-scouting schemes. “Mainstream British society” has moved well away from the Yorkshire club’s blinkered approach. Later this month both Rafiq and Yorkshire Cricket’s top brass will give evidence to a parliamentary committee. The latter can “expect a pillorying”. “Far from accepting racial slurs as mere banter, MPs were among those willing to bat for Rafiq. That, at least, is progress.”

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