Azeem Rafiq’s testimony to MPs detailed the overt and devastating racism that he alleged was the norm at Yorkshire county cricket club. The constant use of the p-word, which was dismissed as banter in its internal investigation, sent shockwaves across the country and became the catalyst for political action.
But his allegation to the digital, culture, media and sport select committee that players of colour were all called Kevin, which he was asked to explain during his hearing, prompted warnings from leading race equality campaigners. They said, regardless of intention, the result is insidious, and has the same effect – to disenfranchise and alienate people of colour.
Rafiq fought back tears when he detailed the use of “Kevin” at Yorkshire, naming former England batters Gary Ballance and Alex Hales.
He told the committee: “Kevin was something Gary [Ballance] used to describe anyone of colour in a very derogatory manner. It was an open secret in the England dressing room.
“Anyone who came across Gary would know that was a phrase he would use to describe people of colour.”
He went on to allege he understood that Hales named his dog Kevin because it was black.
Adam Patel, a volunteer for Muslim Engagement and Development, said: “It’s the othering of an individual. It takes away a person’s real identity and when you do that, it takes away from the humanity of that individual. And though people think it’s banter or a laugh, you begin to dehumanise someone and don’t care for how they are treated.
“For the person affected, they are disenfranchised from the local community and it can cause so many issues for that individual and for wider society.”
Rafiq also claimed Jack Brooks, a two-time County Championship winner at Yorkshire, had started the practice of calling India star Cheteshwar Pujara “Steve” during an overseas stint at the club.
Jabeer Butt, CEO of Race Equality Foundation, said many people in the UK would have their own examples of being called by a different name, against their wishes. “I can recall from my experience in school where there were boys called Mohammed Iqbal and the head of year forced us to change their names to Tom and Jack.
“There were three Stevens in our year and two of them were in our class and it was never raised that they had similar names. But it wasn’t acceptable to have two Mohammed Iqbals. As young children, we were nine or 10, it doesn’t cross your mind that calling them Tom and Jack instead of their real names is problematic.”
But it is, Butt added, as it’s a constant reminder you’re the other and don’t belong as you are. “It’s a sign that, while there has been some progress, it’s not changed completely.”
The regular use of the p-word in the workplace is far less common now than it was several decades ago, Butt explained. But the use of Kevin or Steve shows there’s still significant progress to be made. “Rather than it being the case that we’ve moved on to understand that this is racist and derogatory, we have instead replaced it with something else. The effect is still the same.”
Patel pointed out that the racism scandal currently engulfing cricket is occurring during Islamophobia awareness month. “One of the things he [Rafiq] said that resonated was that no one came forward within the community to support him. One of the reasons they don’t is because they feel a sense of helplessness because they fear they can’t beat the system and no one will believe us.
“And that what makes this so depressing is because so much of this is going on but people don’t raise their voices.”
He hopes Rafiq’s testimony finally changes that.