The racism scandal that has engulfed Yorkshire County Cricket Club sparked recriminations and resignations on Friday as the chairman resigned and accused the English game’s governing body of failing to act.
Roger Hutton, the chairman of Yorkshire, stepped down along with two other board members in the wake of the row over Azeem Rafiq, the former Yorkshire cricketer who in 2020 went public with allegations of racial harassment and prompted a 12-month investigation that resulted no current employees at the club facing action.
On Friday evening it emerged the Equality and Human Rights Commission had made contact with Yorkshire requesting access to the full independent report into Rafiq’s claims and was considering whether or not to pursue action against the club.
Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who had called on the board to quit, described the events of the past week as “vindication” for Rafiq
But Harrison’s own role came under fire. To the surprise of many Harrison admitted he had not read the 100-plus page report that was completed in September, upheld seven of Rafiq’s 43 claims, and was belatedly delivered, unredacted, to the ECB last week. The chief executive insisted, however, it must first go through the governing body’s regulatory process and stressed this was an example of “good governance at work”.
Speaking after the ECB took the decision to suspend Yorkshire from hosting England fixtures – something which could cost the clubs millions in lost revenues if it rolls into next summer and the Test match versus New Zealand moves to another venue – Harrison insisted a message had been delivered that racism has no place in the sport.
He said: “There are going to be a lot of people from different backgrounds and cultures that have looked at what’s been happening over the last few days and feel very uncomfortable about whether they want their children or their partner or themselves to be involved in cricket. So we have had to step in the most direct way and take unprecedented action in defending the values of the sport.”
Asked for his message to Rafiq, Harrison replied: “I think now it feels like this is some vindication for Azeem. I hope that Azeem can see, frustrating as it must have been given the length of time this has taken, how serious the ECB is about matters relating to race in cricket. I think that his patience is probably very short and I would understand that. But I hope in time that Azeem can become a person for whom cricket is part of his life again, without feeling that the game has let him down in a big way.”
Announcing his resignation at 8am, before a board meeting at Yorkshire on Friday morning, Hutton piled into the ECB. “I want to be clear that when I was made aware of Azeem Rafiq’s allegations, I immediately reached out to the ECB to ask for their help and intervention to support a robust inquiry. I was saddened when they declined to help as I felt it was a matter of great importance for the game as a whole.
“It is a matter of record that I have continually expressed my frustration at the ECB’s reluctance to act. There has been a constant unwillingness from the executive members of the board and senior management at the club to apologise, and to accept that there was racism, and to look forward. For much of my time at the club, I experienced a culture that refuses to accept change or challenge.”
Harrison, in response, stressed that taking a place on the panel that oversaw this process would have compromised the ECB’s role as the sport’s regulator.
It was reported on Thursday night that Yorkshire will launch an investigation after another former player came forward to allege being subjected to racist abuse while at the club.
The unnamed player, who is of Asian heritage, was quoted in the Daily Mail to have been victim of incidents of racist abuse that was “both blatant and sly” in the early 2000s.
The club has experienced a reckoning this week and now begins life under the stewardship of Lord Patel of Bradford. Previously deputy chair of the ECB and still a close ally of the former Yorkshire and ECB chair, Colin Graves, the 61-year-old grew up in Bradford and has spoken previously about his own experiences of racism.
“The club needs to learn from its past errors, regain trust and rebuild relationships with our communities,” said Patel, upon being named the new chair. “There is much work to do, including reading the panel’s report, so we can begin the process of learning from our past mistakes.”
However the fallout is far from over. Rafiq is set to give evidence to parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport select committee on 16 November and, covered by parliamentary privilege, can speak freely about his experiences at the club between 2008 and 2018. While both Gary Ballance and Michael Vaughan have both addressed allegations publicly this week, other names could follow.
The make-up of the club’s leadership is not completely overhauled either. When Hutton stood down as Yorkshire chair, offering an unreserved apology to Rafiq in the process, he bemoaned “a culture that refuses to accept change or challenge” and “a constant unwillingness from the executive members of the board and senior management at the club to apologise.” This appeared to point to Mark Arthur, the chief executive, and Martyn Moxon, the director of cricket, to whom Rafiq reported racism upon being released by the club in 2018 just weeks after he and his wife had lost their first child. Both Arthur and Moxon, along with Hanif Malik, the club’s diversity chair, were deemed by the club’s report to have failed in not escalating his claims formally at the time.
But while Malik resigned from the Yorkshire board on Friday, along with another member in Stephen Willis, both Arthur and Moxon remain in their positions. Neither has commented on the scandal since Rafiq first aired his complaints publicly in a series of interviews in August 2020 but, along with Hutton, are both expected to give evidence at the upcoming DCMS hearing.
Yorkshire have also lost a raft of sponsors over the past week and are still face the prospect of further sanctions pending the outcome of the ECB’s investigation. The governing body, which stripped Durham of its Test status in 2016 after a financial bail-out, must balance any punishments against burying a first-class county that has been in operation for 158 years and a cricket board that has more than 700 affiliated recreational clubs.
The ECB will also have to make a final decision on Ballance, the Yorkshire batsman who was suspended from England duty on Thursday after confirming he had used racial slurs towards Rafiq when teammates, while the BBC is in talks with Vaughan, the former England captain, and his representatives over his continuation as a pundit.
It was announced yesterday that Vaughan will not appear on Monday’s Radio 5 live show Tuffers & Vaughan amid an allegation that the 47-year-old told four players of Asian heritage – Rafiq, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved – that there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” in 2009.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Vaughan said: “I completely and categorically deny that I ever said those words.” On Friday Naved, the former Pakistan international, told ESPNCricinfo he too had heard this at the time. Like the scandal as a whole, this element is likely to rumble on for some time yet.