Sajid Javid says ‘heads should roll’ over Yorkshire cricket racism claims

The row over racism claims at Yorkshire escalated on Tuesday as a cabinet minister said “heads should roll”, a key sponsor said it was ending its relationship with the county and the club chairman was called to a parliamentary committee for an explanation.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, criticised the club and demanded action from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) after ESPNcricinfo published what it claimed to be details of the report into the treatment of former player Azeem Rafiq. That included a senior player’s admission that he had repeatedly used the word “Paki” in reference to Rafiq, which was, according to the extract, deemed to be “in the spirit of friendly banter”.

Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants, said: “‘Paki’ is not banter. Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If @ECB_cricket doesn’t take action it’s not fit for purpose.”

The former Conservative cabinet minister Sayeeda Warsi, retweeted Javid’s comments and added: “Paki” is not banter. Too many of us in too many walks of life have heard the “defence of banter” for too long as an excuse for racism. For years my business & others supported @YorkshireCCC – we need you to stop posturing & prevaricating & take responsibility for this.”

Further pressure on a commercial level came from Anchor butter, who sponsor Yorkshire and had its name on the club’s shirts for the Royal London Cup. The company tweeted: “There is never a place or an excuse for racism. We have no further activity supporting YCCC.”

Emerald publishing group – one of county’s primary sponsors, with naming rights at Headingley stadium – said: “We take all matters related to any form of racism or discriminatory behaviour seriously and expect all our partners to uphold our values.

“As sponsors of the Headingley stadium, we are dismayed by the conclusion of an independent panel that the former player, Azeem Rafiq, suffered racial harassment and bullying during his time at the club.

“Whilst the club has offered its unreserved apology for this, and has made a number of positive changes in the intervening years, there is clearly still a great deal more to do. We are pursuing the actions from the YCCC in response to their latest statement and will continue to review the findings from the tribunal and ECB investigation in due course.”

Azeem Rafiq in action for Yorkshire in 2016.
Azeem Rafiq in action for Yorkshire in 2016. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

Rafiq, who played for the county in two spells between 2008 and 2018, first made allegations of institutional racism at the club more than a year ago and an independent report commissioned by Yorkshire upheld that he had been a victim of “racial harassment and bullying”. Despite issuing what was termed a “full apology”, no employees of the club will face any further action.

Roger Hutton, the chairman of Yorkshire, is to be called by the parliamentary digital, culture, media and sport committee to answer for the club’s handling of the claims.

The DCMS committee’s chair, Julian Knight, said: “This is extremely concerning and it’s clear that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has questions to answer. We have monitored developments around the club’s handling of the serious allegations made by Azeem Rafiq.

“We want to see much greater transparency from YCCC – it is time for them to answer their critics. We intend to call the Chair of the club before the DCMS Committee to give a much fuller explanation than we have had so far.”

Yorkshire officials have refrained from publishing their full report on the allegations made by Rafiq in 2020, citing legal reasons. However, the ECB is investigating the document, which is said to contain graphic details of the abuse directed towards Rafiq.

Headingley stadium.
Headingley stadium. Photograph: Park Dale/Alamy

The MP for Leeds North West – the constituency that covers Headingley – made clear on Tuesday he would not allow the issue to rest. Labour’s Alex Sobel tweeted: “I am very concerned to read today’s report. It’s not acceptable for any organisation to say clearly racist language is just banter.” Sobel confirmed that he had arranged a meeting with Rafiq and would be seeking further information.

The developments in Rafiq’s case have also attracted the attention of anti-racism campaign group Hope Not Hate, with its chief executive, Nick Lowles, saying: “Referring to someone by a racial slur is not, under any circumstances, ‘good-natured banter’.

“In 2021, we have a right to expect racism and intolerance to be taken seriously. We cannot sit idly by while institutions try to brush these problems under the carpet – we all have a part to play in refusing to accept racial intolerance and taking a stand against organisations who fail to tackle racism.

“It has now emerged that Yorkshire CCC is ‘pleased’ to announce that no disciplinary action will be taken against any current player or staff member. A refusal to act on tackling racism should not be a cause to rejoice. Azeem Rafiq deserves justice. Cricket, like any sport, unites people across many backgrounds – but when institutions fail to safeguard and protect players from abuse, the premise of unity falls apart.”