Why is the hearing happening?
In 2020 Azeem Rafiq went public with allegations of the racism he says he experienced while a player at Yorkshire during two spells from 2008 to 2014 and 2016 to 2018. This prompted a 12-month investigation by the club, with a summary of the resulting report released in September upholding seven of Rafiq’s 43 claims and confirming he was the victim of “racial harassment” in his first spell and bullying during the second. Despite a conclusion that the club failed to properly escalate his initial complaints in 2018 as per its own policies, the club announced on 28 October that no action would be taken against any current employee. This, plus a leaked element of the still unpublished report that showed the panel considered the use of the P-word towards Rafiq to be “in the spirit of friendly banter”, prompted a raft of MPs to voice their displeasure earlier this month and saw Julian Knight, chair of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, set up Tuesday’s hearing to get to the bottom of the issue.
Who will give evidence and who will be listening to it?
Rafiq will speak to the cross-party panel of 11 MPs – chaired by Knight, the Conservative MP for Solihull – at the first of three sittings starting at 9.30am. He will then be followed by Roger Hutton, chair of Yorkshire from April 2020 until last week. Mark Arthur, the Yorkshire chief executive who resigned on Thursday, was previously set to appear but his name is now missing from those currently listed, while Martyn Moxon, the club’s longstanding director of cricket, is signed off from work due to “stress-related” illness. Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, and Barry O’Brien, the ECB’s chair, will be the third group to give evidence. The hearing will be streamed live on parliamentlive.tv.
What will they discuss?
The select committee has been called to “address concerns about the lack of action against individuals following the findings of the investigation by Yorkshire”. It is therefore likely to focus on Rafiq’s specific allegations, the club’s handling of these both at the time and subsequently, and Yorkshire’s overall record on equality and diversity. Harrison and O’Brien are set to be quizzed about the ECB’s involvement over the past 15 months, its process for dealing with complaints and the wider implications of the sport.
What are those involved likely to say?
Protected by parliamentary privilege, Rafiq is free to outline all of his complaints without fear of legal reprisal and has previously indicated he is ready to name names. His past allegations include the use of racist language at the club including the slurs “Pakis” and “elephant washers”, a drinking culture that excluded those from Asian backgrounds, and racist incidents involving supporters that the club failed to properly investigate.
Hutton, who became chair of Yorkshire after the period in question, will likely explain the path chosen by the club after Rafiq first went public in 2020. He is also expected to expand on a resignation statement that bemoaned “a culture that refuses to accept change” and criticised the ECB for failing to help. Harrison and O’Brien will doubtless stress the ECB’s role as the sports regulator in this issue and, more broadly, look to defend the governing body’s record on inclusivity at a time when this is being seriously questioned.
Who will be following events with close interest?
Rafiq played with 65 different cricketers during his two spells in the Yorkshire first team – including a raft of household names – and worked with countless coaches and staff since he first turned out for the academy in 2004. As a result, the game at large will be following events closely. Gary Ballance has already admitted to using racist language towards Rafiq – he claims this was a feature of their previous friendship and that offensive things were said in both directions – while former England captain Michael Vaughan has vehemently denied telling a group of four Asian players “there’s too many of you lot” before a game in 2009. The question now is whether other players, past or present, or coaches are named at the hearing. Rafiq has previously stressed, however, that his motives are not about settling scores with individuals but rather a sport that failed to address his complaints. The ECB, the Professional Cricketers’ Association and the National Asian Cricket Council are all likely to be criticised here along with the senior management at Yorkshire.
What will follow?
After hearing the evidence, the DCMS committee will produce a report for the government on the situation that includes both conclusions and recommendations. The government typically then has 60 days to respond and decide what action, if any, needs to be taken. For Rafiq, who settled a long-running employment tribunal case with Yorkshire, the chance to speak freely about his experiences should provide some closure but the impact on the sport could be wide-ranging.
Individuals connected to Yorkshire could see their careers irreparably damaged, while other counties are already braced for similar allegations from past or current players or staff. Both the ECB and the PCA could also come under significant pressure over their handling of the affair, while the personnel changes that are already under way at Yorkshire under its new chair, Kamlesh Patel, will likely continue. The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket, set up by the ECB, has recently issued a call for evidence as it compiles a report on the sport’s culture and diversity. This is due to be published next summer and could throw up more uncomfortable truths.