Racism in cricket is “deep-seated” and public money should be withheld from the sport unless it can “clean up its act”, a parliamentary committee has said.
In November Azeem Rafiq gave an emotional testimony to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee about the racist abuse he faced during two stints at Yorkshire beginning in 2008 and ending in 2018.
In a report published on Friday, the committee found there was “deep-seated” racism within the sport and 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.
“We are watching closely and fully intend to ensure that cricket cleans up its act,” the report read.
“We recommend that the Government ensures that any future public funds for cricket are dependent on continuous, demonstrable progress in getting rid of racism in both the dressing rooms and on the stands.”
- There is “deep-seated” racism in English cricket and the sport needs to “clean up its act”
- The language used in correspondence with the committee as it gathered evidence and attempts to “discredit” Rafiq in the media are evidence of a “long and difficult road” ahead
- ECB called upon to develop a set of key indicators and provide quarterly updates to the committee on its progress, or face a cut in funding
- ECB and Yorkshire will be called to give evidence on their progress early in 2022
The ECB published a game-wide 12-point plan to tackle discrimination on 18 November. Its chief executive Tom Harrison described the racism allegations made by Rafiq and other players as an “earthquake” in cricket.
The plan includes 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.
MP Julian Knight, chair of the committee, said: “The powerful evidence given to this Committee by Azeem Rafiq convinced us that his story was typical of an endemic problem across the whole of cricket. We commend him for having the courage to blow the whistle on unacceptable and discriminatory behaviour.
“We have been shocked by language people used in correspondence with us after the hearing. That, together with stories run in the media to discredit him, demonstrate that eradicating racism from the game will be a long and difficult road. However, this is a watershed for cricket in this country. Those who love and support the game are part of the solution and must play their part.
“Changes introduced by Lord Patel at Yorkshire County Cricket Club give room for optimism, but alone cannot eradicate racism in the game. Public funding for cricket must depend on real leadership and progress by the ECB to tackle abhorrent behaviour, not just in the dressing rooms, but also in the stands.
“The Government must make future funding conditional on the game cleaning up its act. We put the ECB on notice that we expect regular updates delivered to this Committee on progress being made.”
Rafiq: Brilliant that DCMS are holding ECB to account
Commenting on the report, Rafiq said: “The DCMS committee has listened and taken sensible action.
“It is absolutely brilliant that Julian Knight and his colleagues on the committee are going to hold the ECB to account every quarter. This shows just how seriously politicians are taking an issue that too many people in cricket ignored for so long. The committee understands how important it is to clean up the game.
“The additional hearing proposed, in which the ECB and Yorkshire Country Cricket Club will be required to give evidence on their progress, is also good news. They need to be given the chance to do the right thing and I’m encouraged by Lord Patel’s work since he was appointed chair at YCCC.
“I’m glad that MPs will monitor any progress, so that the reforms needed to make the sport inclusive to all youngsters can happen soon.”
The committee set up the inquiry after Yorkshire announced no disciplinary action would be taken against any individual at the club despite an investigation it commissioned concluding that there was “no question” Rafiq had experienced bullying and racial harassment.
The club could face further sanctions from the ECB’s ongoing investigation into how it handled Rafiq’s complaints.
Barry O’Brien, interim chair of the ECB, commented: “We welcome the committee’s recommendations and the focus of Julian Knight and committee members on achieving real change.
“We also embrace the ongoing scrutiny of the committee and all those that love the game of cricket who will be watching closely as we undertake the continuous, demonstrable, progress in eradicating racism from the dressing room and from the stands. We are determined to root out racism – and other forms of discrimination – from our sport.”
‘Headingley should not host until issues of influence resolved’
Knight has also said that Yorkshire should not host international matches at Headingley until issues surrounding the influence of the Colin Graves Trust are resolved.
Former county chair Roger Hutton told the DCMS select committee in November that he wanted to remove chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon over their response to a report into allegations of racism raised by former player Azeem Rafiq.
However, Hutton said he was not given consent to do so by the Trust, which is owed a significant amount of money by the club and is linked to the family of former Yorkshire chair Colin Graves.
The ECB removed Yorkshire’s right to host lucrative international games at Headingley over the former leadership’s handling of the Rafiq crisis, but Lord Patel said this week that it would be a “huge financial crisis” for the county if international matches were not restored this summer. Rafiq told the Daily Mail he felt the county had done enough to warrant being given the matches back.
“It gives me real pause for thought as to whether or not they’re ready (to host internationals) yet,” Knight told the PA news agency.
“Lord Patel has made great strides but we need to be sure that there is no repetition of a situation where those who need to be removed from senior positions at the club are not removed because of a road block through a Trust.
“I would question whether Yorkshire should get the matches back until that issue is resolved. I think that’s something we are going to explore with them and the ECB when they come in front of us in the coming weeks.
Yorkshire CCC chairman Lord Patel admits it would be catastrophic if Test cricket were not to return to Headingley.
“I would question very closely the position of the Graves Trust within Yorkshire, or whether or not it should continue to have the influence and power that it does.”
Patel said in response to the report: “We welcome the select committee’s call for demonstrable action to rid our sport of racism and discrimination. Azeem Rafiq’s testimony was a watershed moment for the sport as a whole, and we are committed to ensuring that no-one endures the unacceptable experience that he did at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
“In the last two months Yorkshire County Cricket Club has made significant progress in our efforts to rebuild, and I am heartened that the committee considers that there is room for optimism in what we have achieved. We share that optimism and have made some real improvements, but we are only at the start of this long and important journey.”