Azeem Rafiq was the “victim of racial harassment and bullying”, according to the findings released from a report by his former club Yorkshire.
Seven of the 43 allegations made by the player have been upheld by an independent panel.
Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton offered the club’s “profound and unreserved apologies” to Rafiq and his family.
“There is no question that Azeem Rafiq, during his first spell as a player at YCCC, was the victim of racial harassment,” Hutton said in a statement. “He was also subsequently the victim of bullying.”
Yorkshire have released a summary of the panel’s report and recommendations but said the full report can not be released for legal reasons “in relation to privacy law and defamation”.
A statement given on behalf of Rafiq claims the former player received a copy of the findings “only a couple minutes before the media”.
“We must highlight the atrocious way this process continues to be handled. Azeem was not given any notice of this morning’s statement,” a spokesperson added.
“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.”
According to Hutton, the report said there was “insufficient evidence to conclude that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is institutionally racist”.
The report findings said: “The panel were unanimous in concluding that it could not reach a finding of institutional racism on the basis of insufficient evidence and the panel was not reaching a conclusion that there was no evidence of institutional racism.”
A further statement from Rafiq is expected in the coming days.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has described the findings as “very concerning”.
“It is clear that the game owes him an apology and we are happy to offer that apology to him,” ECB chair Ian Watmore said.
“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.”
What do the findings say?
Yorkshire say the majority of the allegations were not upheld due to “insufficient evidence”.
The enquiry conducted 29 interviews with 26 witnesses, but the club said “many individuals” declined to participate which “impacted on its ability to make conclusive findings one way or another”.
The seven allegations upheld were:
- When Rafiq was playing junior cricket for Yorkshire, he was not provided with halal food at matches. This has now been rectified.
- [Relating to the period prior to 2010], the panel found that there were three separate incidents of racist language being used by former players which were found to be harassment on the grounds of race.
- Before 2012 a former coach regularly used racist language.
- During his second spell at Yorkshire between 2016 and 2018 there were jokes made around religion which made individuals uncomfortable about their religious practices.
- During his second spell at the club, a former player made references to Azeem Rafiq’s weight and fitness that amounted to bullying.
- In August 2018, when Azeem Rafiq raised concerns of racism there was a failure by the club to follow its own policy or investigate these allegations.
- On a number of occasions prior to 2018 the club could have done more to make Muslims more welcome within their stadiums and should have dealt better with complaints of racist or anti-social behaviour within those stadiums.
The report added that it “did not find that any decisions by the coaching staff or the Club, relating either to Azeem’s inclusion within a team or his ultimate release from the Club was for anything other than cricketing reasons”.
In September 2020, Rafiq, who left Headingley in 2018, said in an interview with ESPN Cricinfo he felt he was made to feel like an “outsider” as a Muslim.
The club launched an independent investigation conducted by law firm Squire Patton Boggs.
Yorkshire, who received the findings on 13 August, released a statement six days later which said Rafiq was “the victim of inappropriate behaviour” and offered him their “profound apologies”.
Rafiq responded by accusing the club of downplaying racism.
The release of the findings on Friday comes after pressure from cricket’s governing body and the MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee.
The ECB asked the club for a copy of the findings and on Wednesday MPs urged the club to publish the report “immediately”.
“It is concerning that YCCC was not initially willing to publish its findings and had to be pressed into doing so,” DCMS committee chair Julian Knight MP said in response to the findings.
“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.”
The investigation has published a list of recommendations and steps the club should take next.
These include a review of policies and discrimination complaints procedures, training on equality, diversity and inclusion for club employees, an open and fair recruitment process and better engagement with minority communities in Yorkshire.
The panel also suggested the club “reach out to senior Asian ex-professional players and community leaders to be role models and to foster a greater sense of trust and engagement”.
“Hopefully this investigation review and the recommendations will help cricket become more inclusive in its entirety for individuals whatever their nationality race religion gender age disability or experience,” the report adds.
The club said it would “now enthusiastically implement the panel’s recommendations” and “will look to work with a broader group from diverse communities to further develop and improve our inclusivity, accessibility and sensitivity to the pulse of modern Britain”.