Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of institutional racism at Yorkshire have led to several resignations on the county’s board, government intervention, and continue to shake English cricket.
However, it took more than a year for Rafiq’s claims to gain traction, with Yorkshire initially saying that no disciplinary action would be taken against any of their employees – despite an investigation finding he was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying”.
The publishing of alleged details from the report, revealing that a senior Yorkshire player had admitted repeatedly using the work “P***” in reference to Rafiq, saw the case finally attract widespread attention.
Rafiq then gave evidence to a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, fighting back tears as he revealed all aspects of his wide-ranging allegations of institutional racism at Yorkshire, without fear of legal reprisal.
The DCMS this week published its report, and has warned that racism in cricket is “deep-seated” and that public money should be withheld from the sport unless it can “clean up its act”.
Sky Sports News has followed and reported on Rafiq’s allegations throughout, and we now look back at how the case created a major crisis for Yorkshire and English cricket…
2008-2018 – Rafiq’s Yorkshire career
Rafiq’s Yorkshire career started brightly, with the county giving him his debut in a T20 match against Nottinghamshire in 2008 at the age of just 17.
The off-spinner, who was showing the potential to become a fully-fledged all-rounder, would go on to make his first-class debut in a County Championship fixture with Sussex the following summer, while he had also caught the attention of international selectors. He was chosen to captain England at the U19 World Cup, leading a team that featured current-day superstars Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler.
In 2012 Rafiq became Yorkshire’s youngest ever captain and their first of Asian origin, going unbeaten as skipper during the six T20 matches for which he stood in for the injured Andrew Gale. However, a series of knee injuries disrupted his progress, and by 2014 Yorkshire had allowed Rafiq to train with other counties, but this did little to reinvigorate his career.
What appeared to be a fairy tale return to the Yorkshire team occurred in 2016, as he contributed to a campaign that saw the team reach the T20 Finals Day and compete for the County Championship title. More impressive performances followed in 2017, but he was deemed surplus to requirements in 2018 and his association with the county was formally ended.
September 2020 – Rafiq reveals ‘suicidal’ thoughts in first allegations
In a September 2020 interview with ESPNcricinfo, Rafiq said that “deep-rooted” racism at Yorkshire had left him “close to committing suicide”.
Speaking to Sky Sports News days later, Rafiq shared further details: “At my worst, I was right on the edge, stood on my balcony. I would regularly come home from training and cry all day. It was a very difficult time for me.
Rafiq details some of his allegations of institutional racism and explains how the experiences ‘have stuck with him’
“In one of my first few games, we were going onto the field at Trent Bridge and there was me, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved and one of the senior players said: ‘there’s too many of you lot, it’s something we need to have a word about’.
“We would be on nights out, I’d be speaking to someone and I’d have team-mates coming over and saying: ‘Don’t speak to him. He’s a p-word.’
Yorkshire swiftly launched an investigation, asking independent law firm Squire Patton Boggs to lead the review of Rafiq’s allegations, with Hutton describing the allegations as “hugely concerning”.
The ECB said it was “deeply troubled” by Rafiq’s experiences and “welcomed” Yorkshire’s investigation.
December 2020 – Rafiq submits legal claim
Yorkshire confirmed in October 2020 that the investigation was under way, while the following month Rafiq made his first statement to the panel convened by the county.
With the investigation ongoing, in December 2020 Rafiq filed a legal claim against the county under the Equality Act, claiming he suffered “direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race, as well as victimisation and detriment as a result of his efforts to address racism at the club”.
Rafiq says there have been several difficult moments helping with Yorkshire’s investigation
Rafiq’s legal team said they were seeking “a declaration that the club acted unlawfully, as well as financial damages for the harm and detriment he suffered,” while also making recommendations “to ensure that changes are brought about at the club to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
The club responded by saying that they take the allegations “extremely seriously” but that it would be “inappropriate” to comment further while proceedings are ongoing.
The club also cited its own ongoing investigation and said it was awaiting the results and recommendations from it “early next year”.
June 2021 – No resolution reached as report is delayed
With no sign of the report in late February 2021, Rafiq’s lawyers warned that Yorkshire “risked legitimising racism” by delaying the release of their findings, suggesting that they could be being held back for the fear of their impact on the employment tribunal resulting from his legal claim, which had been scheduled for June.
Rafiq’s lawyer Asma Iqbal said the delays “create a lack of faith in the entire process and means trust in the sport’s ability to clean up its act is being seriously undermined”.
Yorkshire responded by saying they believed “that the investigation’s findings will be delivered before the next stage of the tribunal, but it would be inappropriate to try to tailor its timing to fit with tribunal proceedings.”
The findings had not been released when the tribunal was held in June, with Rafiq and the county failing to resolve their dispute.
The club said it was “sorry” that a resolution could not be reached, and that they expected the case to be listed for a private Case Management Conference.
Rafiq questioned Yorkshire’s response after the county said their former player was a ‘victim of inappropriate behaviour’ following his allegations of institutional racism
August 2021 – Yorkshire apologise, but deny institutional racism
In August 2021 Yorkshire issued “profound apologies” to Rafiq after stating that the report found that he was “the victim of inappropriate behaviour”, which they described as “clearly unacceptable”.
However, the county did not accept his claim of institutional racism, stating that “many of the allegations were not upheld and for others, there was insufficient evidence for the panel to make a determination”.
Rafiq accused the county of “fudging” his claims and promised that he was “not going away”.
The ECB said that it was awaiting a copy of the report and commended Rafiq his “bravery”, while noting its “concern” that some of the allegations were upheld.
Prior to the release of Yorkshire’s statement, Rafiq told Sky Sports News that the process had been “incredibly tough” on his mental health, and that he had found himself in the same “dark places” he had been when suffering the alleged abuse.
September 2021 – Summarised version of findings published – ECB ‘concerned’
In September a summary of the panel’s findings and recommendations was finally published, with Yorkshire admitting Rafiq was the victim of “racial harassment” and “bullying” during his time at the club.
However, just seven of the 43 allegations made by Rafiq were upheld and Yorkshire said it was not possible to determine conclusively that there is institutional racism within the club and maintained they do not intend to publish the full report.
Rafiq told Sky Sports News that he was “not happy” with the county’s latest actions and would “fight on” with the hope of having the full report published.
Nasser Hussain said Rafiq ‘deserved his own day’, after Yorkshire revealed details of their investigation on the same day that the final Test between England and India was cancelled
The ECB said the independent panel’s findings were “very concerning” and would decide after examining the contents in more detail “what further action is required”.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport demanded “action” against those found guilty of racism against Rafiq, and condemned Yorkshire for showing a “lack of genuine contrition”, while also demanding that Rafiq see a full copy of the report.
There timing of the release of the report was described as “atrocious” by a spokesperson for Rafiq, with it coming on the same morning that England’s fifth Test with India was called off just hours before play was due to start.
October 2021 – No disciplinary action to be taken by Yorkshire
The following month Yorkshire announced it would take no disciplinary action against any of its employees, players or executives following the report.
The county said its own internal investigation had concluded “that there is no conduct or action taken by any of its employees, players or executives that warrants disciplinary action”.
Rafiq described the decision as “inconceivable” and accused Yorkshire of protecting its members of staff, writing on Twitter that the club was “embarrassing”, and accusing it of giving a “green light” to racism.
Wow just when you think this club couldn’t get more embarrassing you find a way
Still awaiting the FULL report
Thanks for mentioning the people that have provided your PROTECTION & given green light to RACISM
Interesting timing again 🧐 https://t.co/p1wAyjqU6R
— Azeem Rafiq (@AzeemRafiq30) October 28, 2021
Rafiq, who had by this point received a heavily redacted version of the report, said he was still awaiting the full version, and called up the ECB to “sort this before I do”.
The ECB said it had on this day received the full report and would consider it, but warned that “it will take time for the regulatory process to reach its conclusion”.
November 2021 – Report details leak, Yorkshire face widespread backlash
Alleged details of the report were published by ESPNcricinfo, including a senior player’s admission that he had repeatedly used the word “P***” in reference to Rafiq, which was subsequently deemed to be “in the spirit of friendly banter”.
Former England international Gary Ballance would later release a statement in which he admitted he used a racial slur towards Rafiq during their time together at Yorkshire.
The claim that racist language had been found in the report and Yorkshire had opted not to take action resulted in a major backlash against the club.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said “heads should roll” at the county, while prime minister Boris Johnson called for the England and Wales Cricket Board to investigate “thoroughly and quickly”.
Given the endemic racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, I struggle to think of any reason why that the board should remain in post. This is one of the most repellent and disturbing episodes in modern cricket history.
— Julian Knight MP (@julianknight15) November 2, 2021
The ECB promised it will conduct a full regulatory process as “quickly as possible”, and apologised for not resolving the issue sooner, saying it was “conscious about the length of time that Azeem has waited for resolution and the toll that must be taking on his wellbeing and that of his family”.
It was confirmed that Hutton will be called to face the parliamentary DCMS committee, whose chair Julian Knight called for the removal of the entire county board and said “this is one of the most repellent and disturbing episodes in modern cricket history”.
Resignations come as Headingley hosting duties suspended by ECB
The ECB offers its first major sanction on November 4 as Yorkshire are suspended from hosting international or major matches. Headingley was scheduled to host a 2022 Test match against New Zealand and a one-day international against South Africa.
The club are warned the suspension will remain “until it has clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and first-class county”.
The following day chairman Roger Hutton resigns, along with other board members Hanif Malik and Stephen Willis. Lord Kamlesh Patel of Bradford is appointed his replacement and later apologises to Rafiq for the club’s handling of the allegations.
The new chair of Yorkshire county cricket club, Lord Kamlesh Patel, apologises to Rafiq
Chief executive Mark Arthur’s resignation follows a week later, while the club announce that director of cricket Martyn Moxon is absent from work with a “stress-related illness.”
Yorkshire first-team coach Andrew Gale is suspended on November 9 “pending a disciplinary hearing following a historical tweet”. Gale told the Jewish News he had been “completely unaware” of the meaning of an offensive, antisemitic word he used in a historical and subsequently deleted tweet, after the newspaper reported the story.
Yorkshire also announce that they are investigating racism allegations made by an Asian cricketer who was a former academy player for the county.
The player, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims a Yorkshire team-mate urinated on his head and also alleges he heard senior players talking about desecrating a Muslim prayer mat.
England Test captain Joe Root says the Yorkshire racism scandal has ‘fractured our game and torn lives apart’
England Test captain and Yorkshire batsman Joe Root says on November 11 the racism scandal has “fractured our game and torn lives apart” and will offer his support to the club in a bid to “make the sport I love better for everyone”.
Root, who came through the Yorkshire age-groups and academy adds that he had never personally heard any racism at the club.
Hours after Root released his statement, Rafiq wrote on Twitter: “Disappointed is not even the feeling. Incredibly hurt. But uncomfortable truths are hard to accept it seems.”
Rashid backs racism allegations against Vaughan
Former England and Yorkshire captain Michael Vaughan reveals on November 4 that he had been implicated in a report into Rafiq’s allegations, but categorically denies telling a group of Asian team-mates there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it”.
The BBC stand Vaughan down from his radio show, while ex-Pakistan international Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, who played for Yorkshire as an overseas player in 2008 and 2009, says he heard the alleged comment.
On November 15, with his participation at the T20 World Cup complete, England and Yorkshire bowler Adil Rashid releases a statement corroborating Rafiq’s accusation against Vaughan.
Sky Sports footage from 2009 shows Vaughan shaking hands with team-mates Rafiq and Rashid – the match where he allegedly made a racist remark. Vaughan denies the allegation
Rashid says he “can confirm Azeem Rafiq’s recollection of Michael Vaughan’s comments to a group of us Asian players” and vows to support any further official investigations into his former team-mates claims.
Sky Sports News approach Vaughan, Yorkshire and the ECB for comment.
Rashid’s statement comes on the same day Yorkshire open an independent whistleblowing hotline, allowing anyone wishing to lodge a formal complaint about any form of discrimination or harassment they have suffered as a result of any act or omission from Yorkshire to do so using a dedicated email address.
Rafiq gives evidence to DCMS
Protected by parliamentary privilege, Rafiq fought back tears as he appeared before MPs to reveal all aspects of his wide-ranging allegations of institutional racism at Yorkshire, without fear of legal reprisal.
Rafiq spoke of a “toxic” dressing room atmosphere, in which he was “constantly” subjected to racial slurs.
He said there had been racism in the England dressing room, accusing Ballance of using the term ‘Kevin’ to describe “anyone of colour”. He also alleged that Alex Hales had named his dog after the racial slur. Hales would later deny the claim.
Azeem Rafiq tells MPs about the names and racial slurs used in the Yorkshire and England dressing rooms (Warning: video contains offensive and upsetting content)
Rafiq also described how he had been pinned down and forced to drink alcohol at his local cricket club as a 15-year-old, and concluded that he had lost his career due to racism.
Rafiq also accused former England head coach David Lloyd of attempting to smear him. Lloyd would later release a public apology, before stepping down from his role as a pundit for Sky Sports.
Former Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton told MPs that he was asked by the county’s former chief executive Mark Arthur to abandon the investigation.
Hutton added that he had wanted to remove Arthur and director of cricket Moxon from their posts, and added that he “feared” Yorkshire feel under the definition for being institutionally racist.
Rafiq apologises for making antisemitic comments
Days after the DCMS hearing, Rafiq was accused in The Times of making antisemitic comments in an exchange with another cricket in 2011.
Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq – who exposed the racism scandal within the game – has himself apologised for antisemitic messages in a message exchange with another cricketer in 2011
Rafiq issued an apology and said he was “ashamed of this exchange” with former Warwickshire and Leicestershire player Ateeq Javid.
Rafiq said he was sorry to the Jewish community “and everyone who is rightly offended by this”, but insisted he is a different person today than in 2011, when he was 19.
The following week, Rafiq met a Holocaust survivor in an attempt to further educate himself.
ECB publishes action plan after all-game meeting
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison vowed to stay in his role and address racism within the sport, following a meeting of cricket’s leading decision-makers, including the chairs of all 18 first-class counties.
A week after the meeting, the ECB published a 12-point, game-wide action plan on Friday to tackle racism and all forms of discrimination.
ECB chief Tom Harrison says he wants to lead cricket through its racism scandal and has received backing to do so, after a meeting of the sport’s counties and governing bodies
Key points included a review of dressing-room culture, diversity training for all those involved in the sport, a governance review, a drive to remove barriers to playing top-level cricket, localised equality, diversity and inclusion for clubs, counties and government bodies and examining how stadia can be made more welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds.
Described as “a critical moment for cricket” by ECB interim chair Barry O’Brien, England’s governing body pledged £25m of strategic funding over five years to implement changes – some of which would be “immediate” while others would be introduced as part of a “review period”.
A new anti-discrimination unit was announced, to be formed within six months, “to ensure that the ECB has the right resources and capabilities to help tackle discrimination”
December 2021 – Gough appointed after Moxon and Gale depart
Director of cricket Martyn Moxon and head coach Andrew Gale leave Yorkshire along with the county’s entire coaching team.
Moxon had been signed off from work due to a stress-related illness while Gale had been suspended pending a disciplinary hearing since November 9.
Yorkshire chair Lord Patel said: “Significant change is required at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and we are committed to taking whatever action is necessary to regain trust.”
England captain Joe Root says new Yorkshire director of cricket Darren Gough can pass on his experience to the next generation of players
The following week former Yorkshire captain Darren Gough is appointed as the club’s managing director of cricket on an interim basis until the end of the 2022 season.
Applications are opened for head coach and six non-executive director roles at the county. Gough later appoints former England team-mates Steve Harmison and Ryan Sidebottom as interim coaches.
January 2022 – Report warns of funding cut unless cricket ‘cleans up its act’
Following the November hearing, the DCMS committee publishes a report warning that racism in cricket is “deep-seated” and that public money should be withheld from the sport unless it can “clean up its act”.
The report gave the example of the language used in correspondence with the committee and attempts to “discredit” Rafiq in the media as evidence of a “long and difficult road” ahead for the sport.
It went on to call on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to develop a set of key indicators and provide quarterly updates to the committee on its progress, or else face a cut to government funding.
The committee said the ECB and Yorkshire will be called to give evidence on their progress early this year.
Commenting on the report, Rafiq said: “The DCMS committee has listened and taken sensible action.”
The ECB welcomed the committee’s recommendations and said that they “embrace the ongoing scrutiny of the committee and all those that love the game of cricket”.
In further comments made to the PA News Agency, DCMS committee chair Julian Knight said that Yorkshire should not host international matches at Headingley until issues surrounding the influence of the Colin Graves Trust are resolved.
Knight’s comments come after Yorkshire chair Lord Patel warns of a “major financial crisis” if international cricket doesn’t return to Headingley for the upcoming summer. Rafiq had also backed Lord Patel’s pleas, claiming the county is moving in the “right direction” under his leadership.