Rafiq fears public racism hearing ‘will make things worse’ for his family

Azeem Rafiq believes being the key witness in a public Cricket Discipline Commission hearing examining his allegations of racism will make life worse for him and his family, but does not see an end unless he speaks.

The 31-year-old has been clear about his desire to stage the hearing in public since the England and Wales Cricket Board charged a number of individuals over allegations of racism he raised, and charged Yorkshire over their handling of those allegations, back in June.

The hearing, due to start on November 28, could yet be held in private if any of the parties involved successfully appeal. Rafiq has indicated he would almost certainly not participate if that happened, even though he expects a public hearing to be detrimental to him personally.

“My view is I’ve gone through all these processes and been vindicated, yet I and my family continue to be put through some very awful situations,” Rafiq told the PA news agency.

“So, I’ll go in another room, and I will be vindicated again, I’ve got absolutely no doubt whatsoever. But will that change my life? I actually think it’ll make things worse.

“But we need to have these conversations for transparency and for closure. Let the world see it, what’s there to hide? I’ve got nothing to hide.

“Is it going to be easy for me? Of course it’s not. I’m going to be cross-examined by seven or eight different legal teams. But I just don’t see an end unless that happens.

“Every time I open my mouth, I am damaging myself – mentally, professionally. But my view is that at some point in life, you’ve got to look past your own nose.”

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The ECB have charged ‘a number of individuals’ in relation to allegations of racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, without naming who those people are. Yorkshire have also been charged with breaching anti-racism rules.

Rafiq is convinced the handling of his case, and the reaction of many within the sport to him and to Yorkshire chair Lord Kamlesh Patel, are proof that cricket remains institutionally racist.

And he reckons that without the harrowing testimony he gave before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee almost a year ago, there would have been even less progress than there has been.

“Let’s be right – if it wasn’t for the select committee, I’d still be fighting,” Rafiq said. “People actually don’t know what institutional racism is – one of the definitions is not having the procedures and processes [in place] to deal with grievances or allegations.

“The fact that we’re still here two years on and there are still question marks as to what’s happening and what’s not happening, just shows that is the case.

“I have put myself through all this – the Squire Patton Boggs [investigation commissioned by Yorkshire], as flawed as it was, still had no choice but to vindicate me. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has looked at it and said it is likely that unlawful activity has taken place.

Azeem Rafiq
Image: Azeem Rafiq spoke out at a DCMS hearing last year

“The select committee has looked at the evidence, the ECB has looked at it and charged people and yet there is a large section of the cricket community that still wants to see me as a problem. From my understanding of institutional racism, this is it.”

Asked if cricket had changed in the year since his appearance before the DCMS committee, Rafiq said: “No. At Yorkshire there’s obviously an attempt to go in the right direction, and it shows that leadership matters. But you’ve seen the way Lord Patel has been treated.

“He is a Lord, he’s worked in drug addiction and social care. He’s worked in helping save people’s lives, and he’s being treated the way he’s been treated. What chance have any of us got?”

Rafiq still has low confidence in the system, and joined former Yorkshire chair Roger Hutton in questioning why the ECB’s own conduct was not being examined as part of the CDC hearing.

“From the minute I’ve spoken out, I don’t think any organisation or anyone in the game for that matter – from players to coaches, to administrators, to governing bodies, across the players’ union, I don’t think anyone has handled this well,” Rafiq said.

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Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq, who was racially abused during his time as a player, has encouraged more players to speak out in Scottish Cricket after its governing body failed on almost all tests of institutional racism.

“All sorts of stuff has happened and that’s happened from the game, from the system. So on that, I think Roger is right.”

Rafiq will move out of the UK this month amid continued abuse and threats aimed at his family, but will be back to appear before the CDC and has also been invited to appear before the DCMS committee again on December 13.

“There have been emails saying ‘shut up, or this will happen to your family’. After the select committee that intensified,” Rafiq said.

“I’ve been umming and ahhing over the last five months – is it safe? Is my family safe? I’ve lived here 21 years in Barnsley and it breaks me to say this, but the masks have well and truly come off locally.

“There was an incident a few months ago where my parents’ house has been circled late at night [by someone] with a weapon in their hand.

“The message has been sent to me – I’d better shut up. But I’m not prepared to do that. I’m not going away to never come back, I want to take the heat off my family. I think my family are physically and mentally drained. I could no longer justify allowing my family to continue to suffer because of this.

“Credit where it’s due, since the latest incident the ECB has provided me with 24/7 security which I’m grateful for.

“Some people will see [leaving the country] as weak. I see this as an absolute strength that I have made that decision, and I am going to continue to do whatever I need to do to make sure that cricket becomes a game for everyone.”

A book looking at Rafiq’s life titled ‘It’s Not Banter, It’s Racism’ is set to be published on May 4 next year.

The book will examine the discrimination he has encountered during his life in cricket, his life as a player and also his own misdemeanours, such as the anti-Semitic tweets he was sanctioned for by the CDC earlier this year.


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