What should you know about Yorkshire CCC, the club that has been roundly condemned by multiple MPs, including Sajid Javid? That it is a cricket club with a history of internecine squabbles, that it appears to have an appalling record of clearing up its own backyard, that its man-management is legendary for its cack-handedness.
That for years black and Asian cricketers were largely ignored and left to play in their own leagues because of the Yorkshire-born policy which the club held on to stubbornly until 1992. That for many young alienated cricketers in the county, there was more love for the Roses club on the other side of the Pennines, the club of Clive Lloyd and Wasim Akram, than there was for the one down the road at Headingley – something that not even the arrival of a young Sachin Tendulkar as the club’s first overseas player could disguise.
That the young Asian talent that had started to drip through the system in 2003 with the arrival of Dewsbury’s Ismail Dawood, Bradford’s Ajmal Shahzad and Adil Rashid and, most pertinently, Azeem Rafiq, is, in 2021, running dry again.
That Yorkshire has also won the County Championship more times than any other club, produced the current England captain – one of the most impressive men in the game – and is the one English county where cricket is embroidered into the soul of the stone walls, makes the shame of the Azeem Rafiq affair all the more pertinent.
What could have been dealt with internally with an immediate investigation, apology and determination to do things better, has become an all-devouring scandal, because of the deeply incompetent way in which it has been handled. One in which Rafiq was ignored, and the issue avoided, followed by a psychodrama over first of all the release of the internal investigation, then the delay in handing it over to the England and Wales Cricket Board, then the press statements that have accompanied it.
Is Yorkshire CCC institutionally racist? The view from the outside, based on the report findings, surely has to be yes. Does that mean that all those in the club are racists? No, of course not. It means that they don’t have the processes in place, they haven’t organised themselves, they don’t educate their players and administrators, and they don’t acknowledge what has to change.
Part of the problem has come from a split in the board between those full of contrition, and those who … are not. Those who, as one experienced Yorkshire watcher suggested, “fold their arms and say you can’t tell me what to do.”
And yet, the sins of omission of Yorkshire CCC are the sins of omission of all county clubs. The racism experienced by Rafiq at Yorkshire CCC is the racism of all county clubs. The voices of black players raised after the Black Lives Matters movement have told us that. Michael Carberry, one of the most vocal, said that racism was “rife” in the sport.
A survey by the Professional Cricketers’ Association in the summer of 2020 reported that a quarter of all the 174 respondents said they had experienced or witnessed racism in the game, and 60% of those thought the racism was disguised as “banter”.
That’s the kind of banter that saw Rafiq repeatedly referred to as a “Paki” and asked “does your dad own those?” about corner shops. Bizarrely, the report cleared such exchanges as banter of the “good-natured” kind.
On Twitter, Rafiq reads like a tormented man. He admits that he isn’t a perfect character, but we should have learnt by now, from the Jimmy Savile case to Rochdale child sexual exploitation scandal, that victims dismissed as “flawed” also need to be heard. He will, at last, get his day in court when he gives evidence to the DCMS select committee on 16 November. Mark Arthur, Yorkshire’s chief executive, chair Roger Hutton and Martyn Moxon, the club’s director of cricket, have also been called to provide evidence. At last, perhaps, some clarity.
Yorkshire CCC does not have a prerogative on racism, but it seems it has become a byword for it. For the club, its fans, and most of all Rafiq, that is a tragedy.