English county cricket side Yorkshire launched a formal investigation after one of its former players claimed “institutional racism” at the club left him close to taking his own life.
Azeem Rafiq, a former England under-19 captain, said in an interview with ESPNcricinfo that he was made to feel, as a Muslim, like an “outsider” during his time at Yorkshire.
“I know how close I was to committing suicide during my time at Yorkshire,” he said.
“Do I think there is institutional racism? It’s at its peak in my opinion,” Rafiq added. “It’s worse than it’s ever been.”
The 29-year-old Rafiq played for Yorkshire from 2009-17, and became its youngest ever captain when he led the team in a Twenty20 fixture in 2012. He is not currently working in cricket.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton said the allegations were “hugely concerning to everyone from the board to the playing staff” and were being taken “very seriously.”
“On Monday this week, the club took the decision to launch a formal investigation into the specific allegations made by Azeem Rafiq, and a wider review of YCCC’s policies and culture,” Hutton said. “We are in the process of finalising the structure of this investigation and we will be approaching impartial external parties to be part of the review to ensure complete transparency.”
Hutton said his club has tried to make contact with Rafiq this week to discuss his experiences and said it was “important that we hear his grievances in as much detail as possible.”
“The future direction of our organization’s culture will be best shaped with the understanding and the input of players, staff and supporters from all minorities and genders,” Hutton said of the investigation that will be conducted “thoroughly, impartially, and with urgency.”
Trying to rectify, become more diverse
England captain Eoin Morgan said he was surprised at Rafiq’s comments, particularly because of the diverse nature of the team he led to the Cricket World Cup title last year.
England’s team included two players — Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid — with Pakistani heritage, as well as Barbados-born paceman Jofra Archer and South Africa-born opener Jason Roy. Morgan himself was born in Ireland.
“The ECB has been active in trying to rectify and become more diverse, and create equal opportunity for everybody,” Morgan said in a video call ahead of England’s Twenty20 match against Australia on Friday. “Given the squad of players we have and the guys of different cultures, backgrounds, races, the diverse nature of it really does epitomize where English cricket is at.
“I think travelling around during last year’s World Cup and going to 10 different grounds around the country, watching the supporters flood in of all different races, all following England, was great. It made us all feel very proud.”
‘They just want to sweep it under the carpet’
Morgan said English cricket needed to get better at allowing players from “a diverse background” to tell their story more.
“It is our continued ambition to try and create more sustainable awareness around our fight against racism and the creation of equal opportunity, and equality in sport is important to drive that forward, because it shouldn’t exist in society,” he said. “There is no place [for it] in society. When people talk about it, they should feel comfortable talking about it and coming out, and we want everyone to know that.”
Rafiq said in the interview that “Yorkshire don’t want to listen and they don’t want to change.”
“And part of the reason for that,” he said, “is the people who were involved in the incidents I’m talking about are still at the club. They just want to sweep it under the carpet.”