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Azeem Rafiq: Yorkshire admit former player was 'victim of racial harassment and bullying' at club

Yorkshire admit there is "no question" Azeem Rafiq suffered "racial harassment" and "bullying" but say it is not possible to determine if there is institutional racism at the club; spokesperson for Rafiq criticises the "atrocious" handling of the release of the report

Azeem Rafiq during Day Two of the Specsavers County Championship Division One match between Yorkshire and Durham at Headingley on September 7, 2016 in Leeds, England. (Getty)
Image: Yorkshire have admitted former player Azeem Rafiq was the 'victim of racial harassment and bullying' during his first spell at the club

Yorkshire have admitted former player Azeem Rafiq was the victim of "racial harassment" and "bullying" during his time at the club.

However, Yorkshire say it is not possible to determine conclusively that there is institutional racism within the club and have maintained they do not intend to publish the full report on Rafiq's two spells with the county.

Rafiq told Sky Sports News on Friday that he's "not happy" with the county's latest actions and "will fight on" with the hope of having the full report published.

The ECB said the independent panel's findings were "very concerning" and would decide after examining the contents in more detail "what further action is required".

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport condemned Yorkshire for showing a "lack of genuine contrition" in their statement.

Last summer, Rafiq made serious allegations about his time at Yorkshire - claiming there was "deep-rooted" racism at the club, forcing the county to launch an investigation with an independent panel put in place to oversee it.

A summary of the panel's findings and recommendations was finally published on Friday but the report upheld just seven of the more than 40 allegations dating back to 2002 - claiming there was insufficient evidence to prove any further claims.

Those that were detailed include examples of racist language and jokes, bullying Rafiq over his weight and fitness, and a failure to fully investigate initial complaints made to the club.

Yorkshire have issued "sincere, profound and unreserved apologies to Azeem and to his family", but the report goes on to say that it was a club that "cared deeply for Azeem," and the efforts at improving diversity and inclusion within the county are "at risk of being overshadowed by the behaviour and remarks of a few people".

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Chief executive Tom Harrison has apologised on behalf of the ECB to Rafiq after he was the 'victim of racial harassment and bullying' at Yorkshire

Among the allegations that were not upheld from the investigation are claims from Rafiq that he was treated unfairly due to race during his second spell with Yorkshire from 2016 to 2018, and the panel also found no cricketing decisions were made due to his race or religion.

The report comes more than a year on from Rafiq's initial allegations about a culture that left him "close to committing suicide."

The former all-rounder initially gave evidence to the independent investigation in mid-November and was promised a resolution before Christmas.

The length of time it has taken to report any findings has been a huge source of frustration, so too the nature of the investigation, with Rafiq still believing there are significant witnesses that were never spoken to.

Yorkshire's continuing refusal to publish the full report is also a source of anger for Rafiq. The club maintains it has been advised not to do so due to "privacy law and defamation" but the DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight said this week that he "deserves no less" than a process that is open to scrutiny.

'Timing of Yorkshire release atrocious'

The release of the findings on the same morning that England's fifth Test with India was called off just hours before play was due to start has not escaped focus either, with a spokesperson for Rafiq describing the timing of the release of the report as "atrocious".

"We note that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has confirmed Azeem was the victim of racism and bullying during his two spells at Headingley," read a statement.

"However, we must highlight the atrocious way this process continues to be handled. Azeem was not given any notice of this morning's statement - he received a copy only a couple of minutes before the media.

"Azeem and his team are not in a position to properly understand the club's conclusions and how they reached them, because Yorkshire has not provided a copy of the report. This is clearly unacceptable and an abuse of process.

"What is clear is that Yorkshire County Cricket Club admits racism and bullying has taken place on many occasions, yet won't accept the obvious - that this is an institutional problem.

"We also note that Baroness Morgan, the former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has written to Yorkshire County Cricket Club in recent days demanding that Azeem see a full copy of the report. We further note the letter to Yorkshire from Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, on Wednesday. We welcome their interventions."

ECB to examine report before deciding on 'further action'

ECB chair Ian Watmore suggested that the sport's governing body for England and Wales will take action.

"No one should have to experience racism or discrimination in cricket, and it is very concerning that the independent panel has upheld a number of allegations and concluded that historically Azeem Rafiq was the victim of racial harassment and of bullying during his time at Yorkshire County Cricket Club," Watmore said in a statement.

"It is clear that the game owes him an apology and we are happy to offer that apology to him. There is simply no place for racism in cricket, and what Azeem experienced was unacceptable.

"The ECB has only seen the statement and summary report for the first time today, so we will now examine the contents in detail to decide what further action is required."

Yorkshire, meanwhile, have committed to carrying out a review of the current policies and acknowledged a lack of training with regard to equality, diversity and inclusion.

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Sky Sports News reporter James Cole details the seven allegations by Rafiq against Yorkshire that were upheld.

The report found the club needed to be "stricter on ensuring unacceptable language is not used" but in referencing the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, it stated institutional racism could not be proved and "there were witnesses from different BAME backgrounds who gave evidence that they did not experience or witness discrimination at the club".

While apologising for the small number of allegations that were proven, Yorkshire have identified a number of examples where they have increased inclusivity and diversity within the county in recent years, but they are progressive steps that are unlikely to allow Rafiq to move on from his own experiences.

The DCMS welcomed the publication of further details by Yorkshire but has demanded "action" to be taken against those who were found guilty of racism against Rafiq at the club.

A DCMS statement read: "We welcome the decision by Yorkshire County Cricket Club to publish today further details of its investigation into allegations of racism following our call for its report to be made public. It is concerning that YCCC was not initially willing to publish its findings and had to be pressed into doing so.

"Equally concerning is the lack of genuine contrition in YCCC's statement. We now know that among the allegations upheld was harassment on the grounds of race following incidents of racist language used by former players and it being 'regularly used' by a coach. We need to know what action will be taken against those individuals involved.

"It is critical is that YCCC acts on recommendations made by its investigators and is seen to do so with the utmost transparency and speed."

Hussain: Rafiq deserved his own day

Speaking on the day England's fifth Test against India was cancelled, Nasser Hussain told Sky Sports: "What's the saying? A good day to hide bad news. It felt like that this morning. Rafiq, with all he's been through emotionally and financially, to put himself out and the abuse he's taken, and been the victim of, he deserved 'this is your day'."

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Nasser Hussain says Rafiq 'deserved his own day' as on the same day that England's Test against India was cancelled, Yorkshire admitted Rafiq was the victim of racial harassment and bullying during his time at the club

Hussain urged the England and Wales Cricket Board to take action against Yorkshire, highlighting how the governing body dealt with Ollie Robinson following an investigation into historical racist and sexist tweets.

The seamer received an eight-match ban, five of them suspended, after historic social media posts that emerged during his Test debut against New Zealand in June.

Hussain added: "You can't haul Ollie Robinson up for historic tweets and not do something about one of your great cricket clubs, Yorkshire Cricket Club, something needs to be done.

"Legally they can't name names, how do you make change? There's still a long way, a lot of legs, but I thought Azeem deserved his own day."

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