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Yorkshire refuse player access to Wisden.com during Azeem Rafiq racism investigation

Yorkshire Impose Media Blackout On Wisden.com During Azeem Rafiq Racism Investigation
by Yas Rana and Ben Gardner 3 minute read

Yorkshire CCC have confirmed to Wisden.com that they are refusing to provide access for interviews with any of their players to the site while the investigation into allegations of racism at the club, first made by Azeem Rafiq in an interview with Wisden.com, is in progress.

Wisden.com’s initial request was to interview Yorkshire captain Steve Patterson about the club’s one-run County Championship win over Northamptonshire. This was turned down, with the club telling Wisden.com “we are waiting for the Azeem Rafiq investigation to be concluded before offering Wisden interviews with our players”.

The club have since said that the restrictions are not exclusive to Wisden.com, saying that all player access aside from usual match coverage obligations have been temporarily suspended. However, Wisden.com have since confirmed that an interview by The Cricketer with Yorkshire opener Adam Lyth, conducted during the ongoing County Championship campaign, was arranged through the club.

Rafiq, a former England under-19 and Yorkshire captain, told Wisden.com in August last year that he played under an “openly racist captain” during his career in county cricket. He also alleged other instances of racism. “It was around the time of my debut,” he said. “There was me, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. We’re walking onto the field and one player said: ‘There’s too many of you lot. We need to have a word about that.’”

Yorkshire CCC declined to comment on the allegations at the time, and it was only after Rafiq spoke out on several other occasions, more than two weeks after he first made his allegations, that Yorkshire launched an independent review into his allegations. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo in September, he said his treatment while at the club left him on the brink of suicide.

“I know how close I was to committing suicide during my time at Yorkshire,” he said. He also accused the club of “institutional racism”. “Do I think there is institutional racism? It’s at its peak in my opinion,” he said. “It’s worse than it’s ever been.”

Former Pakistan international and Yorkshire overseas quick Rana Naved-Ul-Hasan has backed up Rafiq’s version of events. “What Azeem Rafiq has recently disclosed is absolutely correct” Rana told i. “And what he has said has brought back some of the issues that I encountered whilst playing there. What Azeem has stated is absolutely true and I echo what he has said. He has only stated facts as far as I am concerned.”

Another former Yorkshire employee, Taj Butt, offered his resignation within six weeks after joining the club, citing targeted language used at the club.

“[There were] continuous references to taxi drivers and restaurant workers when referring to [the] Asian community,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “They called every person of colour ‘Steve’. Even Cheteshwar Pujara, who joined as an overseas professional, was called Steve because they could not pronounce his name.”

George Dobell is the incoming Cricket Writers’ Club chair, and covered Rafiq’s racism allegations in depth in his role as ESPNcricinfo senior correspondent. “I really want to believe in the Yorkshire investigation,” Dobell told Wisden.com. “But would an organisation which really wants to get to the bottom of this seek to stifle the media? Let’s remember that it was the media that forced this situation into the light in the first place. Yorkshire had, in my view, to be dragged kicking and screaming into holding an investigation at all.

“We know the club’s chairman used to work at the firm running the enquiry. And we have discovered in recent days that witnesses who have come forward to give evidence on behalf of Azeem have been ignored. I know there are people at Yorkshire who are passionate about ensuring our game is inclusive and, as I say, I really want to believe in this investigation. But there are times they make it tough to do so.”

A Yorkshire spokesperson said: “We have always taken the claims made by our former player Azeem Rafiq extremely seriously. In September last year we began an investigation, supported by an independent panel, to look into both Azeem’s experiences and also to conduct a wider review into the club’s policies and culture.

“We’re very grateful to all of those witnesses who have given their time and energy in providing their testimonies to the investigation team. In recent weeks further witnesses have come forward and the team have been determined to hear their experiences and ensure their contributions are heard.

“It’s been very important to the investigation team, the panel and the Club that this process be conducted sensitively and thoroughly. Whilst we hope to share the findings of the investigation and recommendations of the panel in the coming weeks we’re sorry that this has taken longer than we should have anticipated.”

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