Azeem Rafiq fought back tears as he told MPs racist terms were “used constantly” across his two spells at Yorkshire and no one in leadership challenged them.
Rafiq first alleged racial harassment and bullying against the county and accused them of institutional racism in September last year, with the club launching an investigation soon afterwards. However, their handling of it has been heavily criticised. They finally published summary findings of the investigation in September this year and, while the investigation found there was “no question” Rafiq had been subjected to racial harassment and bullying, no individuals faced disciplinary action.
Rafiq told the digital, culture, media and sport committee on Tuesday: “Pretty early on at the club, I joined a dressing room full of my heroes, Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, part of the 2005 Ashes team. And it was just the most surreal moment for me.
“Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian background … there were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant washers’. The word ‘Paki’ was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”
Rafiq added: “All I wanted to do is play cricket and play for England and live my dream and live my family’s dream. In my first spell, I don’t really think I quite realised what it was. I think I was in denial.”
He said he started medication due to his deteriorating mental health and left Yorkshire for the first time in 2014. When he returned he initially felt settled under captain Alex Lees and coach Jason Gillespie.
“Jason left in 2016 and it just felt the temperature in the room had been turned up,” Rafiq said. “You had Andrew Gale coming in as coach and Gary Ballance as captain. For the first time I started to see for what it was – I felt isolated, humiliated at times. Constant use of the word ‘Paki’.”
Rafiq said on a 2017 pre-season tour Ballance had racially abused him. “We were in a place and Gary Ballance walks over and goes: ‘Why are you talking to him? You know he’s a Paki.’ This happened in front of teammates. It happened in front of coaching staff.”
Rafiq spoke in detail about former England batter and one-time Yorkshire captain Gary Ballance. Ballance admitted using a “racial slur” towards Rafiq in a lengthy statement issued earlier this month, apologising but framing it as part of a long and deep friendship. Rafiq told the committee that was not an accurate depiction of their relationship, saying it went downill from 2013 onwards and had become toxic by 2017.
Asked by chair Julian Knight about the term “Kevin”, he said it was an offensive, racist term that reached the very top of the game.
“Kevin was a something Gary used to describe anyone of colour in a very derogatory manner. It was an open secret in the England dressing room,” he said. “Anyone who came across Gary would know that was a phrase he would use to describe people of colour.”
Rafiq also alleged former England batter Alex Hales was involved. He said: “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 a Muslim, also described his harrowing first experience of alcohol 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.”
Rafiq said the problem at Yorkshire was replicated “up and down the country”.
Asked about the fact others, such as former Essex and Northamptonshire player Maurice Chambers, had now spoken out, Rafiq said: “I would like to see it as progress that people are feeling like they can come forward and they are going to be heard and not just be discredited, smeared about, briefed about.”
He described England and Wales Cricket Board initiatives on diversity as “box-ticking” exercises and “tokenism”.
He said former England coach David Lloyd had talked about Rafiq’s drinking.
He added: “He’d been an England coach and commentator and I found it disturbing, because Sky is supposedly doing this amazing work on bringing racism to the front and within a week of me speaking out, that’s what I got sent to me and I thought, ‘God, there are some closet racists and I need to do something about it’.”