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Joe Root: I did not witness racism at Yorkshire but cricket must learn and take action to tackle discrimination

Joe Root says he has exchanged messages with Azeem Rafiq and hopes to have a talk with his former team-mate after the Ashes tour; Root says there is 'huge amount of sadness' over what Rafiq experienced at Yorkshire and that England players are determined to stamp out discrimination

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England captain Joe Root says the sport needs to change in the wake of the abuse suffered by Azeem Rafiq at Yorkshire.

England Test captain Joe Root stands by his statement that he cannot recall seeing any instances of racism at Yorkshire - but says he and cricket must learn from Azeem Rafiq's allegations and the subsequent fallout.

Former Yorkshire spinner Rafiq said Root's denial of hearing racist language at Yorkshire was "hurtful" when he gave a disturbing testimony to MPs about the abuse he suffered during two spells at Headingley.

Root says he has exchanged messages with Rafiq and plans a longer discussion with his former team-mate once the Ashes series in Australia is complete.

The England skipper called out West Indies' Shannon Gabriel for alleged use of homophobic language in 2019 but admits cricket still has a long way to go when it comes to tackling discrimination.

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Dr Thomas Fletcher, Leeds Beckett Uni Race, Equality & Diversity Co-Chair, says racism in cricket is a 'national issue' across the UK.

Root told reporters: "I stand by what I said. I don't recall those instances [at Yorkshire] and if they are oversights on my part then that is an area we all have to learn from and I have to learn from.

"I think about things that have happened since then. There have been things that have happened on a cricket field where I feel like I have stepped in and called things out.

"I think that comes from growth and learning, understanding and education. There is still further education that I need to undergo and develop myself further. Within our game, I think everyone does.

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"There is so much work that has to be done - so much energy has to be thrown into this and there has to be a real drive to make a real difference.

"Things have happened, especially at Yorkshire, which are unacceptable and that we have to learn from. We can't change the past but we can make sure moving forward that we shape the future.

[Diversity] has been a huge part of our white-ball teams’ success. The culture of our dressing room and how we go about things, how we talk, and learn from each other has been a massive step forward in how we have gone about things on the field as well. Having that understanding of each other has definitely helped with our performances along the way.
Joe Root on diversity in England dressing room

"We must do everything we can to make the dressing rooms within cricket - professional, international, club - as inclusive as possible so that no one feels like they are treated differently. That has to start at the top of the game.

"I think there is a huge amount of sadness [over what Rafiq went through] and a huge amount of learning has to be done off the back of that. We have to do everything we can to make sure that we continue to find ways of making the game as diverse as possible and championing that."

Root said an ongoing ECB investigation prevented him from discussing Rafiq's allegation that Gary Ballance using the name 'Kevin' as a derogatory term for a person of colour was an open secret in the England dressing room, although he did say "that clearly that is a phrase which you should never be using in any part of society".

Root added that "horrible, uncomfortable" conversations had been had during the Ashes tour about the scale of discrimination within cricket and says that England's players are determined to play a large role in addressing the issue.

He said: "I look at the group of players that are around this team and the other two England men's teams and we have spent a lot of time talking about these topics, what has happened and how we can make a real difference.

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Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq - who exposed the racism scandal within the game - has himself apologised for antisemitic messages in a message exchange with another cricketer in 2011.

"I feel there is a lot of good conversations happening which can hopefully now follow into action and that we can really start to drive the game from our position at the spearpoint of the sport.

"It is very uncomfortable and horrible to hear some of the stories around cricket and the experiences some people have lived through. It is not an easy subject.

"We want to find ways of eradicating it. We have thought about how we can offer more. We are keen to develop and learn and educate ourselves.

"If there are ways as an England team that we can help society and use cricket as a vehicle for bringing communities together we will absolutely try everything we can to do just that.

"You learn from each other and different things your team-mates experience, whether that is things that happen in games, things said from the crowd.

"You learn from the impact that has on guys that you care about and think 'how can we make a difference, how can we change things?'

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ECB chief executive Tom Harrison has promised to 'drive change', following the ongoing racism scandal that has engulfed the sport

"I am not saying we have always got things completely right - we haven't - but we clearly have got to keep looking to get better, have those difficult conversations which will make this a lot better process and hopefully make our game better for everyone."

'Earthquake has hit cricket': ECB reveals plan to tackle racism

English cricket's leading bodies have promised a full review of dressing room culture as part of a 12-point action plan to address the sport's ongoing racism scandal.

Read the full story here and the 12-point plan below:

Understanding and educating more

1. Adoption within three months of a standardised approach to reporting, investigating, and responding to complaints, allegations, and whistleblowing across the game.

2. Full promotion of the aims of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) through proactive engagement with its investigations and recommendations.

3. Ongoing EDI training for all those who work in cricket, including all staff, volunteers, recreational club officials, umpires, directors, and coaches.

Addressing dressing room culture

4. A full review of dressing room culture in all men's and women's professional teams, both domestic and international.

5. Delivery of a redesigned programme of player and coach education, addressing any gaps identified through the dressing room review.

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Sky Sports News' James Cole examines the ECB's 12-point action plan which has been produced in the wake of English cricket's racism scandal

Removing barriers in talent pathways

6. Action to aid progress into professional teams of people from diverse backgrounds (especially South Asian, Black and less privileged youngsters) through measures to address i) talent identification and scouting, ii) education and diversity of coaches and iii) targeted support programmes for players from diverse or under-privileged backgrounds.

2 - Video - 'Can the ECB follow through on these promises?'

Creating welcoming environments for all

7. A full-scale review, in advance of the 2022 season, into the detection, enforcement, and sanctions against discriminatory and abusive crowd behaviour at each of our professional cricket grounds.

8. Delivery of plans (tailored to local communities) to ensure professional cricket venues are welcoming to all, including provision of accessible seating, food and beverage offering catering to all faiths and cultures, and the availability of facilities such as multi-faith rooms and alcohol-free zones.

9. Upgraded education in recreational cricket to ensure players, volunteers and coaches understand and champion inclusion and diversity in the game.

Publishing localised EDI Action Plans within six months

The ECB will today publish its 2021-2023 Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Action Plan with clear actions and targets. The ECB will then work with any of its members who do not yet have an EDI plan in place to create (or revise) their own localised version within six months, with actions to include:

10. A commitment to best practice governance with targets for Board diversity (30% female, locally representative ethnicity by April 2022) and plans to increase diversity across the wider organisation.

11. The introduction of fairer recruitment processes through measures including the immediate adoption of anonymised recruitment tools for senior roles, open appointment processes for all roles and the use of balanced and diverse panels to assess interviews.

12. Every senior executive employed across the game will have personal EDI objectives as part of their annual performance targets, driving leadership accountability.

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