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Azeem Rafiq: Yorkshire suspended from hosting international matches for 'unacceptable' handling of racism case

Former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq made a number of allegations of racism relating to his time at the county; seven of his claims were upheld by an independent panel but Yorkshire said no disciplinary action would be taken; Gary Ballance admitted he used a racial slur towards Rafiq

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Watch the full interview with ECB chief executive Tom Harrison as he explains the decision to suspend Yorkshire from hosting international or major matches over their handling of Azeem Rafiq's racism claims

Yorkshire have been suspended from hosting international or major matches by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) over their "wholly unacceptable" handling of Azeem Rafiq's racism claims.

Gary Ballance has also been indefinitely suspended from England selection by the ECB after he admitted to using a racial slur towards Rafiq during their time together at the county.

The decisions were made by the ECB board following a meeting on Thursday.

Rafiq made 43 allegations relating to his time at Yorkshire, of which seven were upheld by an independent panel, which added there was "no question" he was subjected to racial harassment and bullying.

Azeem Rafiq
Image: Rafiq made 43 allegations regarding his two spells as a player at Yorkshire

Yorkshire accepted the findings of the panel and apologised to Rafiq. However, they announced last month that, following an internal investigation, no employees, players or executives would face disciplinary action.

The handling of the county's investigation into Rafiq's claims has been heavily criticised within the sport and by politicians, with a host of sponsors ending their partnerships with the club this week.

Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton has been called to appear before the select committee of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to give evidence on the matter, with Rafiq also invited to the session, which is set to be held on November 16.

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Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain discuss the fallout from the Rafiq investigation following allegations of racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club

Following its meeting on Thursday, the ECB said: "It is clear to the board that YCCC's handling of the issues raised by Azeem Rafiq is wholly unacceptable and is causing serious damage to the reputation of the game. 

"The ECB find this matter abhorrent and against the spirit of cricket and its values. There is no place for racism or any form of discrimination in cricket and where it is found, swift action must be taken.

"This matter must be dealt with robustly if the sport is to demonstrate its commitment to truly being a game for everyone."

The ECB said its board had reached a number of agreements at Thursday's meeting, including that "there are serious questions regarding the governance and management of YCCC."

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Sky Sports News reporter James Cole explains how the ECB's decision to suspend Yorkshire from hosting international or major matches will hit them hard financially

"The club's failure in relation to actions and responses to their own report represent a significant breach of its obligations to the game," the ECB added.

The governing body said Yorkshire will be suspended from hosting international or major matches "until it has clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and first-class county."

In 2022, Yorkshire are due to hold the third of three Tests against New Zealand, starting on June 23, as well as a one-day international against South Africa on July 24.

The ECB also said its executive has been asked to commission a review of Yorkshire's governance, "to consider whether the existing arrangements are fit for purpose".

It added that "the regulatory processes already underway into the allegations brought by Azeem Rafiq will ultimately be determined by an independent tribunal (The Cricket Disciplinary Committee)."

The governing body also said that sanctions levelled at Yorkshire following their investigation could be financial and could affect the future allocation of major fixtures.

Gary Ballance during a County Championship match for Yorkshire at Headingley back in June
Image: Gary Ballance has 23 Test caps for England, but was last selected in 2017

In response, DCMS chair Julian Knight MP said: "The ECB's action in taking international cricket away from Yorkshire should act as a short, sharp shock to bring the club to its senses.

"Like the rest of us, I imagine the members of Yorkshire County Cricket Club will be questioning why the board is still in place.

"As for Mr Ballance, I'm choosing at this time not to comment on the specifics of the case. However, it would have been completely unacceptable if they had left him eligible for selection for the England cricket team."

Ballance's suspension comes after he released a statement on Wednesday in which he accepted he was responsible for some of the offensive and derogatory terms that Rafiq revealed he was subjected to during his time at Headingley.

The 31-year-old referenced his "incredibly close relationship" with Rafiq during their time together at the club, saying both men "said things privately to each other which were not acceptable" but made it clear he had remorse for his part of those exchanges.

The panel determined that those words were delivered "in the spirit of friendly banter" - a conclusion that has caused a wave of condemnation from prominent politicians and campaign groups and kicked off an exodus of Yorkshire's commercial sponsors.

Just over an hour after Ballance's statement was released, Rafiq posted on Twitter: "Funny how things change from complete denial to I accepted everything over a 14 month period?"

Nike ends relationship with Yorkshire

On Thursday, Nike became the latest company to end its relationship with Yorkshire over the club's handling of Rafiq's allegations.

"Nike will no longer be the kit supplier for Yorkshire CCC. We stand firmly against racism and discrimination of any kind," read a statement.

Yorkshire had already lost a number of significant sponsors on Wednesday, including publishing company Emerald Group - which has had the naming rights for Headingley since 2017, as well as Tetley's and Yorkshire Tea.

Harrogate Spring Water announced on Thursday that it would also be ending its partnership with the county.

Meanwhile, global services company Sodexo are reviewing their £100m, 15-year deal with Yorkshire that started in 2019 and covers catering and events at Headingley.

A Sodexo spokesperson said: "Sodexo has a long-standing commitment to fairness and equity and is dedicated to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.

"As the hospitality partner for Headingley Stadium, we have written to the club this week on this very serious matter. We are keen to understand the steps they will be taking."

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