Azeem Rafiq: Yorkshire contact ex-spinner over racism claims

A former England youth captain, Azeem Rafiq captained Yorkshire in a Twenty20 fixture in 2012
A former England youth captain, Azeem Rafiq captained Yorkshire in a Twenty20 fixture in 2012

Former Yorkshire spinner Azeem Rafiq has claimed that "institutional racism" at the club left him close to taking his own life.

In an interview with ESPN Cricinfo,external-link the 29-year-old said he felt he was made to feel like an "outsider" as a Muslim.

Yorkshire say they have launched a "formal investigation" into the claims made by Rafiq, who left in 2018.

"I was living my family's dream as a professional cricketer, but inside I was dying," he said.

"I know how close I was [to taking his own life] during my time at Yorkshire.

"I was dreading going to work. I was in pain every day. There were times I did things to try and fit in that, as a Muslim, I now look back on and regret. I'm not proud of it at all.

"But as soon as I stopped trying to fit in, I was an outsider. Do I think there is institutional racism? It's at its peak in my opinion. It's worse than it's ever been."

In a statement issued later on Thursday, chairman Roger Hutton said Yorkshire would be carrying out a "wider review" of their "policies and culture", as well as investigating Rafiq's allegations.

"We are in the process of finalising the structure of this investigation and we will be approaching impartial external parties to be part of the review to ensure complete transparency," said Hutton.external-link

"We fully acknowledge that just as in many walks of life, sport, including cricket and Yorkshire as a club, must do better to fully promote a culture of zero tolerance to racism or any form of prejudice.

"We accepted a long time ago that change was needed at Headingley to improve diversity, especially in terms of racial inclusivity.

"We have tried to make contact with Azeem this week to discuss his experiences, and will make further contact in the weeks ahead as it's important that we hear his grievances in as much detail as possible."

However, Rafiq is sceptical as to whether meaningful change will happen following his experiences.

"Yorkshire don't want to listen and they don't want to change," said Rafiq, who no longer plays professionally.

"And part of the reason for that is the people who were involved in the incidents I'm talking about are still at the club. They just want to sweep it under the carpet.

"But not this time. Not again. I know what I'm doing here. I know that by speaking out I'm damaging my chances of working in the game again.

"But I also know it's the right thing to do and if I have to stand alone to do it, I will."

'We're outspoken on racism in England camp' - captain Morgan

Speaking before the start of England's T20 series against Australia on Friday, limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan said he was "surprised" to hear of Rafiq's claims.

"It is surprising to see stories like that come out. Certainly within our camp we've displayed it throughout the summer we're quite outspoken when it comes to things like that.

"We've had victims of abuse. To refresh people's minds, in New Zealand Jofra [Archer] was a victim and the first thing he did was report it. And we encourage people to report it as soon as possible.

"It has absolutely no place in society, in anybody's life, let alone in sport. If it ever happens or you overhear it happening the best thing to do is speak up."

Morgan also said the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) has been "active in trying to rectify and become more diverse and create equal opportunity for everybody".

"Given the squad of players we have and the guys of different cultures, backgrounds, different races, the diverse nature of it really does epitomise where English cricket is at."

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