Azeem Rafiq ‘driven out of country’ since speaking out on racism

Last updated on13 December 2022

https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.46.13/iframe.htmlAzeem Rafiq reveals impact on family after speaking out about racism

Azeem Rafiq says he has “been driven out of the country” by “threats and abuse” since “opening his heart out” about racism at Yorkshire.

Speaking to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, as he did at the end of 2021, Rafiq said media coverage had fuelled threats to his family.

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The 31-year-old spoke of a man “defecating” in his garden as well as abuse received in the street.

“At times I’ve walked down the street fearing for my life,” Rafiq said.

The former Yorkshire spinner told MPs in 2021 that English cricket was “institutionally” racist, having said in 2020 that abuse at the club had left him close to taking his own life.

In October, Rafiq said “a never-ending, co-ordinated campaign of lies” had “caused serious risk” to his family’s safety after he was accused of anti-Semitism and homophobia in a Daily Mail report.

In his latest appearance at a parliamentary committee hearing, Rafiq said he now receives “24/7 security” from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and spoke about how the Yorkshire Post’s coverage of the story “should be held responsible for” the abuse he and his family have experienced since.

“Every time there’s an article it’s created a wave of online abuse,” he said.

“I don’t feel like at any point they [the Yorkshire Post] have had any balance. If I was to pick one reason why all this has happened, unfortunately I would have to say it is the Yorkshire Post’s writing.

“Moving abroad is not an easy thing, especially when you’ve got ill parents.”

The Yorkshire Post told BBC Sport in a statement that it “applied the same rules of objectivity, impartiality and professionalism in seeking to tell all sides of the story”.

The ECB said the evidence heard in the committee hearing “demonstrates why widespread change in cricket is needed” adding that it is “committed” to “lasting cultural change”.

‘Cricket is in denial’

Since Rafiq spoke out there have been changes in Yorkshire’s leadership, with several current and former players and coaches reprimanded.

Rafiq suggested an independent regulator was needed for cricket, saying the ECB had “been involved in the leaking and planting” of stories about him, adding that the governing body “has tried to discredit” his experiences.

He said that “it all feels very superficial at the top” and that “cricket is in denial”, adding: “There is still a group of people out there that feel like cricket is the victim in this.

“The way I have been attacked and abused – why would you speak out?”

Earlier in October, Rafiq was among five current and former players reprimanded by the ECB for historical social media posts of a racist nature. Rafiq had previously apologised for a Facebook exchange from 2011 containing anti-Semitic messages.

“I have made mistakes in my life,” he said.

“One of the things that came out was anti-Semitic messages I have made. I did exactly what I have asked others to do, which is to apologise and admit, try and make some learnings as to why I made those comments.”

In a lengthy statement, the Yorkshire Post’s editorial director James Mitchinson said: “The scurrilous and unfounded allegations made to today’s DCMS select committee, referring to myself, The Yorkshire Post and my staff in relation to Mr Rafiq’s experiences of racist bullying whilst playing for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, I reject absolutely.

“From the moment Mr Rafiq blew the whistle on the racist abuse he was unquestionably subjected to – The Yorkshire Post has repeatedly acknowledged as much – whilst playing for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, we have applied the same rules of objectivity, impartiality and professionalism in seeking to tell all sides of the story, including, but not limited to, the experiences of those individuals who were dismissed, accused of being racists, who remain intent on clearing their names. That is what our readers expect of us, and that is what we will continue to do.

“I am pleased Mr Rafiq acknowledged that during the course of documenting this scandal, I picked up the phone to him in order to ensure I had taken every possible step to understand personally his experience and reflected it in our coverage.

“From a personal perspective, one that I was not afforded the privilege of airing to the DCMS, I know I will be able to look back with absolute conviction that on every step of the way, we as a team have sought to tell everyone’s truth when others have not given them that opportunity.

“I have to say, I am disappointed – but not surprised – that The Yorkshire Post’s brand of fearless journalism, editorially courageous even in the face of deeply contentious and complex issues, has been attacked by powerful people today.

“Those who believe in a free press, empowered to always get to the truth, should be deeply worried by the unsuccessful attempt to undermine The Yorkshire Post.

“Finally, I want to reassure Mr Rafiq that I could not have taken more ownership of nor applied more due diligence to editing this story, and I remain committed to listening to and telling all sides of it with honesty, integrity and impartiality.”

‘Things need to change’ – Lord Patel

Lord Patel
Lord Patel was appointed as Yorkshire chair in November 2021

Yorkshire chairman Lord Patel, who was appointed last year after Roger Hutton resigned over the club’s response to the racism scandal, read out a racist letter the club had received and said he has a “bag full” of similar correspondence sent since Rafiq first spoke out.

Since Lord Patel took over, an independent whistleblowing hotline for victims of discrimination has been opened and structural reforms at the club have meant Headingley can now host internationals again.

But Lord Patel said his job has felt “relentless” since taking over, adding: “I don’t get where Azeem gets the strength to carry on.

“The way things are needs to change. This is sport – it’s something we enjoy and it brings people together.

“This has been a very concerted attack – I don’t think people understand it. I don’t think the ECB have got it. We’ve got to look at the whole culture of cricket and get under the skin.

“We’re on a very long journey. A lot of people are going to have to get off the bus on the way. The way things are needs to change.”

The ECB said it was “appalled at the level of racist abuse” received by Lord Patel and that it recognises “the pain this has caused him”.

Lord Patel also said women have been “forgotten” within Yorkshire.

“Our women’s team don’t have their own changing room – that’s going to change,” he added.

Analysis

BBC sports news correspondent Laura Scott

Azeem Rafiq maintains this was never meant to be about him, and that the purpose of him blowing the whistle on his own experiences of racism was to try to improve the game – but his testimony made clear the ongoing personal impact this has had on him.

All the while, 13 months on from his last appearance before the committee, he is still not convinced that what he considers to be ‘structural problems’ within cricket are being properly addressed, particularly when he believes there are still some in the sport who deny any problem exists.

He appears to have little confidence in the game-wide initiatives brought in by the ECB or the governance changes.

But it wasn’t all negative – Lord Patel said Yorkshire have drastically improved the diversity of their pathway programmes by offering free coaching and free kit, and that despite costing the county £500,000 to introduce, it has attracted new sponsors.

So perhaps having been the centre of the crisis, the county might become a template to follow in the future.

SOURCE https://www.bbc.com/sport/cricket/63956614

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