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Pakistan-born cricketer in Yorkshire race row urges ‘cultural change’

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Azeem Rafiq. — ECB/File
Azeem Rafiq. — ECB/File

LONDON: Azeem Rafiq on Thursday demanded sweeping changes at his former club Yorkshire and cricket as a whole, in a deepening racism row that has cost the county side a host of sponsors.

The county offered the 30-year-old Pakistan-born off-spinner “profound and unreserved apologies” in a report into his allegations of racial abuse in September.

But last week it said it would take no disciplinary action against any staff, unleashing a wave of criticism and prompting big name backers to withdraw their support.

Rafiq said the row was about “institutional racism and abject failures by numerous leaders at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and in the wider game.

“The sport I love and my club desperately need reform and cultural change,” he posted on Twitter.

“The system and environment changes that will organically educate & bring through a new generation that make this the beautiful game it should be.”

The row has drawn in senior British government ministers and politicians, as well as governing body the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

Rafiq, Yorkshire’s chairman and the county’s chief executive and director of cricket have all been summoned to testify before a parliamentary committee on November 16.

Former England international Gary Ballance on Wednesday admitted using a racial slur against Rafiq, saying in a statement: “I regret that I used this word in immature exchanges in my younger years.

“I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate.”

Ballance added “at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress” — he said that if he had realised, “then I would have stopped immediately”.

‘Messed up’

Ballance’s admission came after publishing company Emerald ended their association with Yorkshire and their Headingley ground in Leeds over the handling of the report that found Rafiq suffered “racial harassment and bullying” at the club, with other club sponsors following suit.

Meanwhile, former England captain Nasser Hussain accused Yorkshire of a “messed up” response right from the moment Rafiq was first racially abused.

“They messed it up first time when it actually happened because no one had the guts to stand up and say: ‘No, we are not doing that in this dressing room.’,” Hussain, born in the Indian city of Madras (now Chennai) told Sky Sports.

He added: “They next messed it up for years after that by not picking out people who used that terminology and they are still messing it up now when they had the option to say: ‘We have changed, we will not accept this sort of behaviour’. So they continue to mess it up.”

Rafiq, who represented Yorkshire in two spells between 2008 and 2018, made 43 allegations and said he had been driven to suicidal thoughts by his treatment at the club.

Yorkshire’s redacted report upheld seven of his claims but concluded the club was not institutionally racist.

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