Azeem Rafiq informed a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee this week of the constant racist abuse he suffered whilst playing for Yorkshire County Cricket Club (the Club), which included being regularly referred to as a “P***” and outlining several instances where he had suffered indignity and “humiliation” by those employed by the Club.
During the DCMS meeting, Azeem Rafiq said that derogatory terms were everyday occurrences and a culture where racist abuse was accepted was present throughout his two spells at the Club between 2008 and 2018. Azeem Rafiq told the committee:
“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 P*** was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”
Azeem Rafiq went on to comment that during his second spell at the Club that he initially felt settled under the captain, Alex Lees, and coach, Jason Gillespie. However, when Jason Gillespie left the Club and was replaced by Andrew Gale, and Gary Ballance became captain, things took a significant turn for the worse.
“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.
“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 ‘P***’.”
In respect of Gary Ballance, Azeem Rafiq said that he was racially abused by him on a 2017 pre-season tour. He informed the Committee:
“We were in a place and Gary Ballance walks over and goes, ‘Why are you talking to him? You know he’s a P***’. This happened in front of team-mates. It happened in front of coaching staff.”
For further details of what Azeem Rafiq told the DCMS Committee, click here.
In 2018, Azeem Rafiq made 43 claims in total, which included that one senior player at the Club had repeatedly used a racially offensive term towards him. Azeem Rafiq also stated that the racism he had experienced at the Club left him feeling suicidal.
Following this, the Club launched an investigation into Azeem Rafiq’s claims and seven of his allegations were subsequently upheld. The investigation revealed that at least one player (Gary Balance) admitted to regularly using racially offensive terms when referring to Azeem Rafiq and also admitted to asking him “does your dad own those?” referring to corner shops, amongst other offensive comments. The player admitted recalling Azeem Rafiq breaking down in tears at one point. However, insisted that he had no idea he was causing offence with his comments.
The lawyers who carried out the investigation found that the comments made to Azeem Rafiq were “capable of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” and accepted Azeem Rafiq’s evidence that this “amounted to harassment under the Equality Act and the Club’s Equal Opportunities policy”.
The Club admitted that it had failed to properly escalate Azeem Rafiq’s allegations when he first raised them privately with the club in 2018. However, despite this and the findings of the investigation, the Club issued a statement concluding that no disciplinary action would be taken regarding the conduct of any of its employees, players or executives.
The panel responsible for making conclusions on the investigation, which included a member of the Club’s board, stated that they did not accept that Azeem Rafiq was offended by other players’ comments. They determined repeated use of the word “P***” against the spinner was delivered “in the spirit of friendly banter“.
This response was been widely condemned in the media and by other commentators and categorised as further evidence of the poor culture at the Club. Several of the Club’s sponsors have also announced that they have cut ties with the Club.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are looking into the findings of the investigation.
Other developments in this story have included:
- Gary Ballance has been suspended indefinitely from England selection. The ECB has also said that the Club has been suspended from staging internationals and other big matches at its grounds, Headingley.
- Michael Vaughan confirmed that he has been named in the report but “completely and categorically” denies Azeem Rafiq’s allegation that he was racist towards him and other teammates whilst he played for the Club in 2009. Michael Vaughan is alleged to have said to a group of Asian players, including Azeem Rafiq: “Too many of you lot, we need to do something about it.” However, former Yorkshire all-rounder, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, and England bowler, Adil Rashid, has corroborated Azeem Rafiq’s allegations about Michael Vaughan.
- Club Chairman, Roger Hutton, and several board members resigned from their roles as a result of the Club’s response to racism experienced by Azeem Rafiq. During the CSMS Committee meeting, Roger Hutton informed commented that the Club is institutionally racist.
- Azeem Rafiq has settled his employment tribunal case with the Club. Lord Patel, the new Chairman of the Club, spent nearly seven hours in discussions with Azeem and praised his bravery for speaking out. He stated that “Azeem is a whistleblower and should be praised as such, he should never have been put through this”. It is reported that the Club has agreed to pay Azeem Rafiq a six-figure sum in settlement. Lord Patel also issued an apology to Azeem Rafiq.
- The Club has suspended its head coach, Andrew Gale, following an uncovered tweet from several years ago in which he used an anti-Semitic word. This is pending a disciplinary hearing.
From a purely legal perspective, race is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act). The Act protects employees against race discrimination by making it unlawful for an employer to subject an employee to harassment related to their race, as demonstrated in the above instance.
In this case, however, it has been the media coverage and resulting outcry that has had a massive impact on the Club, rather than any legal proceedings.
This illustrates that employers should consider that their culture is fundamental for employee wellbeing and their reputation with their wider stakeholders.
We advise all of our employer clients to work on creating an inclusive culture and also to have a framework of policies and training which underpin and promote this.
How can Nelsons help?
For advice on or further information concerning the subjects discussed in this article, please contact Laura Kearsley (Partner and Solicitor), Charlotte Dowdy (Trainee Solicitor) or another member of our expert Employment Law team in Derby, Leicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.contact us