Azeem Rafiq has been clear about his desire to stage the hearing in public since the ECB charged a number of individuals over allegations of racism he raised, and charged Yorkshire over their handling of those allegations; The hearing on November 28 could yet be held in private
Wednesday 9 November 2022 18:19, UK
Azeem Rafiq believes being the key witness in a public Cricket Discipline Commission hearing examining his allegations of racism will make life worse for him and his family, but does not see an end unless he speaks.
The 31-year-old has been clear about his desire to stage the hearing in public since the England and Wales Cricket Board charged a number of individuals over allegations of racism he raised, and charged Yorkshire over their handling of those allegations, back in June.
The hearing, due to start on November 28, could yet be held in private if any of the parties involved successfully appeal. Rafiq has indicated he would almost certainly not participate if that happened, even though he expects a public hearing to be detrimental to him personally.
"My view is I've gone through all these processes and been vindicated, yet I and my family continue to be put through some very awful situations," Rafiq told the PA news agency.
"So, I'll go in another room, and I will be vindicated again, I've got absolutely no doubt whatsoever. But will that change my life? I actually think it'll make things worse.
"But we need to have these conversations for transparency and for closure. Let the world see it, what's there to hide? I've got nothing to hide.
"Is it going to be easy for me? Of course it's not. I'm going to be cross-examined by seven or eight different legal teams. But I just don't see an end unless that happens.
"Every time I open my mouth, I am damaging myself - mentally, professionally. But my view is that at some point in life, you've got to look past your own nose."
Rafiq is convinced the handling of his case, and the reaction of many within the sport to him and to Yorkshire chair Lord Kamlesh Patel, are proof that cricket remains institutionally racist.
And he reckons that without the harrowing testimony he gave before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee almost a year ago, there would have been even less progress than there has been.
"Let's be right - if it wasn't for the select committee, I'd still be fighting," Rafiq said. "People actually don't know what institutional racism is - one of the definitions is not having the procedures and processes [in place] to deal with grievances or allegations.
"The fact that we're still here two years on and there are still question marks as to what's happening and what's not happening, just shows that is the case.
"I have put myself through all this - the Squire Patton Boggs [investigation commissioned by Yorkshire], as flawed as it was, still had no choice but to vindicate me. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has looked at it and said it is likely that unlawful activity has taken place.
"The select committee has looked at the evidence, the ECB has looked at it and charged people and yet there is a large section of the cricket community that still wants to see me as a problem. From my understanding of institutional racism, this is it."
Asked if cricket had changed in the year since his appearance before the DCMS committee, Rafiq said: "No. At Yorkshire there's obviously an attempt to go in the right direction, and it shows that leadership matters. But you've seen the way Lord Patel has been treated.
"He is a Lord, he's worked in drug addiction and social care. He's worked in helping save people's lives, and he's being treated the way he's been treated. What chance have any of us got?"
Rafiq still has low confidence in the system, and joined former Yorkshire chair Roger Hutton in questioning why the ECB's own conduct was not being examined as part of the CDC hearing.
"From the minute I've spoken out, I don't think any organisation or anyone in the game for that matter - from players to coaches, to administrators, to governing bodies, across the players' union, I don't think anyone has handled this well," Rafiq said.
"All sorts of stuff has happened and that's happened from the game, from the system. So on that, I think Roger is right."
Rafiq will move out of the UK this month amid continued abuse and threats aimed at his family, but will be back to appear before the CDC and has also been invited to appear before the DCMS committee again on December 13.
"There have been emails saying 'shut up, or this will happen to your family'. After the select committee that intensified," Rafiq said.
"I've been umming and ahhing over the last five months - is it safe? Is my family safe? I've lived here 21 years in Barnsley and it breaks me to say this, but the masks have well and truly come off locally.
"There was an incident a few months ago where my parents' house has been circled late at night [by someone] with a weapon in their hand.
"The message has been sent to me - I'd better shut up. But I'm not prepared to do that. I'm not going away to never come back, I want to take the heat off my family. I think my family are physically and mentally drained. I could no longer justify allowing my family to continue to suffer because of this.
"Credit where it's due, since the latest incident the ECB has provided me with 24/7 security which I'm grateful for.
"Some people will see [leaving the country] as weak. I see this as an absolute strength that I have made that decision, and I am going to continue to do whatever I need to do to make sure that cricket becomes a game for everyone."
A book looking at Rafiq's life titled 'It's Not Banter, It's Racism' is set to be published on May 4 next year.
The book will examine the discrimination he has encountered during his life in cricket, his life as a player and also his own misdemeanours, such as the anti-Semitic tweets he was sanctioned for by the CDC earlier this year.
Yorkshire chair Lord Kamlesh Patel is confident in the changes that have been made at the county after "sustained and personal attacks" during the past year.
Patel was appointed to the role 12 months ago as Yorkshire underwent a mass overhaul of personnel, including in the boardroom and coaching staff, following Rafiq's allegations of institutional racism at the club.
In an open letter on the club's official site, he said: "Looking back on the year has given me cause to consider what an
individual should be expected to put up with in the face of attempting to enact change.
"There have been times when this has crossed the line into sustained and personal attacks. We do not want to stoop to that level, but it does make me question the interest specific parties have in the long-term health of the club
- over their own self-interest and desire for things to go back to how they were.
"The lack of anger from those same individuals towards those who failed to address the clear issues raised by Azeem Rafiq has been notable.
"The decisions that we have taken as a club have always been made in its best interests, including management changes.
"I have my own experiences to share in due course, and welcome the opportunity to do this publicly at the DCMS hearings that have been set for December. It is sure to be an illuminating process to see how far cricket has come since I last sat before the same MPs at the beginning of the year.
"2023 may be a vintage year for cricket - we can't wait for the Ashes in front of a full house in Leeds - but there will be more harsh realities across the game which we must face into.
"There is still much to do to make us a club of which we can be truly proud. But with the structure and people we now have in place, I have the strongest faith that we will come together through our determination to be back at the pinnacle of English cricket for the long-term."