Azeem Rafiq was close to tears speaking to MPs about his experience of racism he suffered at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Rafiq was giving evidence to the DCMS committee about the Yorkshire racism scandal, having first made allegations of institutional racism against the club over a year. With Yorkshire declining to publish the report in full, only releasing a summary of the findings, Rafiq’s testimony has shed greater light on the situation at the club.
“I felt isolated, humiliated at times, [there was] constant use of the word ‘p***’,” he said.
Rafiq went into detail about his relationship with Gary Ballance, who released a lengthy statement apologising for and explaining his extensive use of the word ‘p***’ in reference to Rafiq. “On the 2017 pre-season tour, we were in a place and Gary Ballance walks over and he says, ‘Why are you talking to him? You know he’s a p***.’” Rafiq said. “Or, ‘he’s not a sheikh, he’s got no oil.’ And this happened in front of teammates, in front of coaching staff. We were on a bus trip in London to a Surrey game and we went past a couple of men with beards and it was like ‘Oh is that your dad?’ If we’d go past a cornershop, ‘Oh, does your uncle own this?’ And this happened in front of Martyn Moxon, Andrew Gale, club officials, and it never got stamped out.
“I want to address Gary’s statement, because there was a narrative there that we were best of mates, that we had a really good relationship. When Gary came to the club from Derby, I saw in him what I saw in myself, and that was ‘outsiders’. A lot of the players at the time called Gary a lot of things which were completely out of order, but no one said anything. Mine and Gary’s relationship started to deteriorate around 2013 due to Gary’s conduct. At one point his behaviour around his personal relationships was so disgusting that I raised it with an agent that we shared and said that this needs to be sorted out before it gets quite silly. Even after that we were amicable, we were teammates, but we never shared the same relationship.”
Azeem broke down discussing his son’s stillbirth, which came towards the end of his time at Yorkshire. “End of 2017, we had a really difficult pregnancy. Through that time, the treatment that I received from some of the club officials was inhuman. They weren’t really bothered about the fact that I was at training one day and I got a phonecall to say that there was no heartbeat.”
He also discussed how, in his view, the club’s attitude towards him changed following an accusation of bullying levelled at Tim Bresnan, a former England all-rounder who moved from Yorkshire to Warwickshire ahead of the 2020 season.
“Six or seven players made a complaint about Tim Bresnan that year, but I was the only one that got the repercussions of that,” Rafiq said. “I was the only person of colour. I first raised it as bullying in 2017. A month before I was called a leader, a potential captain, a driver on the field, someone who we should potentially build a team around, especially in white-ball cricket. I raised that complaint about Tim Bresnan, and Tim, former England cricketer, also related to the coach, I knew there was potentially going to be real trouble. But I thought with everyone complaining, it would be safe for everyone, but on the flipside the board minutes say I’m a problem, a troublemaker, and an issue that needs to be resolved. I feel that that then blinded them into how they treated me through the pregnancy and the loss of my son. My first day back after losing my son, Martyn Moxon got me in a room and ripped shreds off me. I’ve never seen him speak to anyone like that, from my time at the club and I couldn’t believe it.”
Warwickshire have spoken to Bresnan but are not investigating at this moment in time, citing the all-rounder’s positive influence on the club since arriving. Bresnan issued a statement apologising to Rafiq: “I have been made aware of the bullying claims made against me and have listened to Azeem Rafiq’s account of his time at Yorkshire CCC today with great distress, as I’m sure everyone will have done. For any part I played in contributing to Azeem Rafiq’s experience of feeling bullied at Yorkshire, I apologise unreservedly.”
Rafiq made clear several times, however, that his intent was not to discuss specific misdeeds by individuals, but to examine the roles of institutions in helping racism spread.
“It felt like it went away from the institutional [racism] and working with the club, they tried to make it about individuals,” he said. “And that’s unfortunately over the last couple of weeks, some individuals have had a really tough time. But I didn’t present my evidence like that. It was never intended like that. But that’s what the club, the lawyers, and the panel have tried to do.”
Rafiq discussed two nicknames, the first of which, ‘Steve’, was giving to those of Asian heritage involved with the club.
“Once I left the club, Cheteshwar Pujara joined the club, and Jack Brooks, I think, started it where he didn’t feel the need to call him by his first name. There is in an interview with Cheteshwar where he says ‘I’d prefer them not to’. But not only did Jack, the coaches, the media, Yorkshire Post, the Yorkshire website, the Yorkshire Twitter page, high-profile commentators around the world, everyone called him that.”
He also revealed another name coined by Ballance, which Rafiq said was used outside of Yorkshire.
“‘Kevin’ was something Gary used to describe everyone of colour, in a very derogatory manner, whether that be publicly, whether that be in the dressing room, whether that be the opposition. This is an open secret within the England dressing room. Anyone that’s come across Gary would know that that’s a phrase that he used to describe people of colour.”
Rafiq claimed Alex Hales named his dog ‘Kevin’ due to the nickname.
“Gary and Alex Hales got really close to each other when they played for England together. I wasn’t present in that dressing room, but what I understand [is] that Alex went on to name his dog ‘Kevin’ because it was black. It’s disgusting how much of a joke it was.”
Rafiq, who is Muslim, also discussed his relationship with alcohol, including his harrowing first experience of drinking at the age of 15.
“I got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat, literally down my throat,” he said.
“The player played for Yorkshire and Hampshire. I [then] didn’t touch alcohol until about 2012 and around that time I felt I had to do that to fit in. I wasn’t perfect, there are things I did which I felt I had to do to achieve my dreams. I deeply regret that but it has nothing to do with racism.
“When I spoke I should have been listened to. The game as a whole has a problem, with listening to the victim. There is no ‘yeah, but’ with racism; there is no ‘two sides’ to racism.
“This guy who doesn’t even know me, never spent any time with me, was talking about my personal drinking, going out. That was David Lloyd, England coach, commentator. I found it disturbing because Sky are supposedly doing this amazing work on bringing racism to the front, and within a week of me speaking out that got sent to me and I thought ‘there’s some closet racists. I need to do something about it.’”
Rafiq spoke for over an hour. The hearing continues with testimony from Roger Hutton, former chair of Yorkshire CCC, and Tom Harrison, chief executive of the ECB.