Azeem Rafiq: What now for cricket? How the sport learns from racism at Yorkshire
How important has Azeem Rafiq's revelation and the DCMS hearing been? How typical are Rafiq's experiences? Is Lord Patel the man to lead change at Yorkshire? The Cricketer's George Dobell speaks to Sky Sports News about a scandal he helped bring to light last year
Last Updated: 29/11/21 8:09am
Azeem Rafiq first made allegations of racism and bullying against Yorkshire back in August 2020, and on Monday his testimony was heard at a parliamentary hearing.
The current and former chair of Yorkshire also faced questions from MPs, so too members of the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Rafiq has since spoken to Sky Sports News, and says he expects the "floodgates" to open on racism in cricket after the DCMS hearing.
George Dobell helped Rafiq tell his story from the start of the scandal, and The Cricketer journalist spoke to Sky Sports News about the former player's journey from a chip shop to Westminster, which has featured threats along the way, and where cricket goes from here…
Key points from following Q&A with George Dobell
- Rafiq 'had everyone spellbound' during testimony
- Rafiq was 'offered £105,000 to shut up and threatened as recently as Friday'
- The sport 'will hear more disturbing testimonies' in coming weeks
- Players 'have no faith' with current system
- Racism hotline needed after 'overwhelming' number of players contacted Dobell
- Rafiq 'relaxed, cheerful, relieved… but needs time to decompress'
How has the Rafiq hearing been received?
"I thought he did terrifically well [on Tuesday]. It was an amazing thing that the guy who now works in a fish and chip shop in Barnsley forced a parliamentary inquiry. That's incredible.
"He spoke with great integrity and power, had everyone spellbound. He's shaken the game into acknowledging we have a serious problem with inclusion and race, and that we must do better.
"Personally, I'm very proud of him."
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How important has this revelation and the hearing been?
"It has been vital. There were so many occasions when anyone else would have given up and accepted their story was never going to be told.
"He was offered £105,000 I think it was to shut up. He's had numerous threats as recently as Friday, when someone came into his fish and chip shop and threatened to detonate a bomb.
"He was told when he went to the union that he didn't have a case, Yorkshire ignored him time and time again, the ECB initially ignored him - and he just didn't give up. His resilience is incredible.
"The one message I would want people to take away: do not think his experiences are unique. They are so far from it. The difference is, he forced his to be heard, and by doing that he has encouraged a lot of people to come forward.
"In the next few weeks, it's going to be grim, our game is going to hear a lot of very disturbing testimony, and we've got to do that, we have to acknowledge we haven't been good enough and have to be better."
How typical are Rafiq's experiences?
"It's hard to say. Basically, I'm a middle-class, middle-aged white fella. I've never suffered racism, if anything I've been a beneficiary. Let's be honest, I didn't realise the extent of the problem until I started talking to Azeem 18 months or so ago.
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"From there lots of other people have started talking to me, and in the last few weeks it has been genuinely overwhelming. I've been ill-equipped to deal with the level of trauma I'm receiving on these phone calls.
"And why are they phoning me? Partly because they've got absolutely no faith in the system. The PCA (Professional Cricketers' Association) can put out any statements they like, but they have lost non-white players' faith. They've lost it."
Sky Sports News has contacted PCA for comment
How confident are you Rafiq's story will bring real change?
"We have to make sure it does. It doesn't fall to him, but to all of us. We all have a responsibility. One of the most powerful moments of his testimony yesterday was when he was talking about Joe Root with a great deal of fondness.
"He basically said Root is a really good man, has a lot of respect for him, but he reckons there were times Root turned a deaf ear to things.
"I would say Root is a symbol of the game. I think a lot of us, if we're really honest, might have pretended we didn't hear something that's uncomfortable, or not noticed that there have been no non-white umpires for years - none since 1992. That the number of cricketers of Asian heritage playing at recreational level is 35 per cent, the number at professional is just under three per cent. We should have noticed this.
"We have to make sure Azeem's sacrifice doesn't go to waste. He'll be okay, I had dinner with him last night and he seemed relaxed, cheerful, relieved. He'll go on and do great things."
Does Rafiq feel like a weight has been lifted?
"Exactly that. He seemed hugely relieved. Hopefully he can go back to his normal life. It has taken a lot out of him, and his family.
"I personally think he has a lot to offer cricket, but he needs time to decompress. He's not just mourning the end of his career, he's mourning a child. He's got a lot to deal with."
Is Lord Patel the man to lead change at Yorkshire?
"He has been in the position a week and played a blinder. He's done everything right. I think the extent of change needed there is terrific.
"We heard yesterday Roger Hutton the former chair wanted to sack the chief executive, the director of cricket, and head of HR, but I actually think he wanted to sack quite a few execs and the coaching team.
"They've probably got to go, there's a lot of grim evidence in that report, so there's a long way to go at Yorkshire.
"Kamlesh Patel has started really well, he's said all the right things, putting words into actions. There are grounds for optimism. However grim the next few weeks are going to be for cricket, it's a chance to clean up our act."
What needs to happen to change the process over racism reports?
"There has to be a hotline. It is a ridiculous situation where people are happy to phone journalists to get it done. That's fine, it's part of the role of the media I think, but none of the systems work.
"We've all got a responsibility. I wrote yesterday an example about Rob Key at Kent. He heard something inappropriate, came down on it hard, made sure the culture remained good and the racist sentiment never had any chance to ferment. The opposite happened at Yorkshire, too many people turned a blind eye."
Would you like to hear from names Rafiq mentioned?
"I've spoken to a few of them. One very well-known player phoned him the day we did our first piece in August 2020. It was well before talk of a report, he wasn't trying to save his skin, he really wasn't. He phoned and he apologised, and I think he had a moment of clarity, where he realised that his behaviour was indefensible. He gave a fulsome apology. I encouraged him to come out and say 'I'm ashamed and I commit to trying to be better'. I'm not judge and jury, I don't see benefit in banning people, I'd rather see people learn and be better.
"Apologies are important things. I'm hearing some denials, not sure I see a lot of future in denials at this stage because there are witnesses. We rehabilitate murderers and muggers, we can rehabilitate racists if they're contrite."
Is there a class problem with cricket?
"There are problems throughout the game. They are class related, a lot of cricket clubs don't need to have outreach programmes because they're full of people from middle-class communities. I'm not saying they're racist, they just don't care as long as people come, can pay, and can play.
"The game hasn't felt a need to reach out. Both morally and financially it really does.
"I thought it was interesting that things started moving at Yorkshire when the sponsors started pulling out. It's money that makes them listen. So it's no good appealing to people to do the right things morally, sometimes they have to be led by the money."
Azeem Rafiq has apologised for making antisemitic comments in a message exchange with another cricketer in 2011.
The ex-Yorkshire player admitted making the remarks after evidence was revealed by The Times on Thursday.
Rafiq said he was "ashamed of this exchange" while saying sorry to the Jewish community "and everyone who is rightly offended by this" but insists he is a different person today.
Rafiq said: "I was sent an image of this exchange from early 2011 today (Thursday). I have gone back to check my account and it is me. I have absolutely no excuses.
"I am ashamed of this exchange and have now deleted it so as not to cause further offence. I was 19 at the time and I hope and believe I am a different person today.
"I am incredibly angry at myself and I apologise to the Jewish community and everyone who is rightly offended by this."