Azeem Rafiq has accused the ECB of actively attempting to discredit him, during a hearing of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee of MPs in which the governing body was repeatedly castigated for a perceived lack of action against discrimination and a lack of support for cultural change.
A week after the England and Wales Cricket Board published three separate reports in an attempt to demonstrate the steps they have taken to combat discrimination in cricket the hearing will have made extremely awkward viewing at Lord’s.
Rafiq, whose blockbuster testimony about his experience of racism while a player at Yorkshire to the same committee last November brought massive attention to the issue, returned to deliver a withering assessment of the response, praising the ECB only for providing him with the 24-hour security he now requires as a result of the abuse and intimidation he and his family have endured.
“Thirteen months on from me opening my heart out, all that’s changed really is that me and my family have been driven out of the country,” Rafiq said.
“I spoke out to make cricket a better place. Thirteen months on I’d have loved to come and tell you how much has changed. But what it feels like is cricket is very much in denial. There’s a group of people out there who almost feel like cricket’s the victim in this. I’ve felt any chance there’s been to discredit my experiences, even the ECB have tried to do that.”
Other witnesses included Jahid Ahmed, who spoke publicly about his experiences at Essex shortly after Rafiq’s appearance last year. He said: “I don’t think much has changed. It’s over a year since I spoke out and I’ve received no support from anyone. I’ve had no support from the ECB so far.”
Kamlesh Patel, who was named chair of Yorkshire last November as the county battled to rebuild its reputation and renew its practices after Rafiq’s testimony, said of the ECB: “Every time there’s an issue, every time people have needed to stand up and support me, they didn’t. I asked in writing, email after email, letter after letter, saying: ‘You asked me to do this, please support me.’ And I’ve had no response to any of those letters or emails.”
The past year has been one of change at the ECB, with Tom Harrison standing down as chief executive in June and Richard Thompson being appointed chair in August. “I’ve got hope in the new leadership,” Rafiq said, “but it’s very little at the moment.”
Asked about whether he had received sufficient support from the governing body, Lord Patel said: “I’m looking forward to the new leadership but in the last 12 months the answer has to be no. Because of the positions I’ve had people think: ‘He can handle it.’ People in the public eye, we get flak. That’s what we expect. But this is relentless and it’s in an area where you don’t expect it. This is sport, this is something we enjoy, that brings people together. And this group of individuals, I don’t think they do understand it. I don’t think the ECB has got it. They respond to headlines, it’s not systematic.”
Patel described the ECB’s Cricket Discipline Commission, which is investigating charges against Yorkshire and a number of individuals, as “completely flawed” and called for an independent regulator to be appointed and a formal code of conduct established. Rafiq said that the imminent publication of a report by the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket, a body set up by the ECB in March 2021, would be “a pivotal moment for the game”.
In a statement the ECB insisted that significant progress had been made since Rafiq’s first appearance in front of the DCMS committee. It said it “applauds the bravery of those including Azeem and Jahid Ahmed who have spoken out about their experiences”, and that they both “welcome the change that Lord Patel is leading at Yorkshire” and are “appalled at the level of racist abuse he has received and recognise the pain this has caused him”.
The ICEC report would, it said, “help to drive the lasting change we need and rebuild trust among communities to show people that cricket can be a game for them”.
Both Patel and Rafiq criticised the reporting of the Yorkshire Post for stoking controversy and encouraging racism. George Dobell, the chief correspondent for the Cricketer and another witness, described the paper as “the voice of the racist” and their cricket correspondent Chris Waters, who has dismissed his critics as “woke anti-racists”, as “out of his depth”.
In a statement James Mitchinson, the paper’s editor, rejected the accusations. “The Yorkshire Post has repeatedly acknowledged the racism suffered by Mr Rafiq and we have been scrupulously objective, impartial and professional in our reporting of the story,” he said.