Azeem Rafiq could not suppress his tears on Tuesday as he provided a harrowing and emotional testimony of the bullying and racist abuse he suffered at Yorkshire.
Speaking at a digital, culture, media and sport hearing, the ex-England Under 19 captain accused cricket in this country of being institutionally racist and pointed the finger at some of its highest profile figures.
Rafiq, 30, struggled to keep his composure as he recounted his experiences of two spells as a player at Headingley, but explosively claimed at the hearing and then later in a written witness statement that:
- The word ‘P**i’ was used constantly around the Yorkshire environment and was never stamped out.
- England captain Joe Root was witness to the racist abuse.
- Rafiq forcibly had red wine poured down his throat as a teenager by a cricketer who represented Yorkshire and Hampshire.
- Yorkshire director of cricket Martyn Moxon ‘tore strips’ off him on his first day back to work following the still birth of his son.
- 2005 Ashes winner Matthew Hoggard used to openly refer to him by the racial slur ‘Raffa the Kaffir’.
English cricket suffered its darkest day as Azeem Rafiq laid bare the horrendous bullying and racist abuse he suffered at Yorkshire
Speaking under parliamentary privilege during two hours of questioning by the select committee, Rafiq said: ‘I joined a dressing room full of my heroes, Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, part of the 2005 Ashes team. And it was just the most surreal moment for me.
‘Early on, me and other people from an Asian background… there were comments such as ‘‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’’, ‘‘elephant washers’’. The word ‘‘P**i’’ was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.
‘All I wanted to do is play cricket, play for England, and live my dream. (Former England player) Gary Ballance would regularly make derogatory comments about my Pakistani heritage to others in front of me — ‘‘Don’t talk to him, he’s a P**i’’. This happened in front of loads of people, including Joe Root, it happened in front of coaching staff.
The spin bowler told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that racism was rife at Yorkshire and no one in leadership challenged it
He says the word ‘P***’ was used regularly and Gary Ballance would constantly use the term
‘It was Hoggy (Hoggard) who started calling me “Raffa the Kaffir”. At the time, I didn’t understand that it was a racist slur. It was only later I realised what “Kaffir” meant, how it was used, and that it was a racist term.
‘The comments from Hoggy towards myself and the other Asian players — Adil (Rashid), Ajmal (Shahzad) and Rana (Naved-ul-Hasan) — were on a daily basis, and all day, every day.’
He added: ‘After I made my disclosure to the media, Hoggy called me to apologise for what he had said to me. I respect him for that.’
Cataloguing the abuse, Rafiq, who is a Muslim, described how at the age of 15, he was ‘pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat, literally down my throat,’ by a cricketer who played for Yorkshire and Hampshire.
Rafiq was released by Yorkshire in 2014 and felt settled, he said, when he returned under captain Alex Lees and coach Jason Gillespie.
Rafiq hit out at England captain Joe Root (left), claiming he was on those nights out where he was called a ‘P***’. But he later said Root was a good man. He claimed fellow international star Alex Hales (right) named his black dog Kevin after Ballance often used the name as a term for black people. Hales denies the allegation.
‘Jason left in 2016 and it felt the temperature in the room had been turned up,’ Rafiq said. ‘You had Andrew Gale coming in as coach and Gary Ballance as captain. For the first time I started to see it for what it was — I felt isolated, humiliated at times. Constant use of the word ‘‘P**i’’.’
Recalling an episode during his final season of 2018, he continued: ‘The first day back after losing my son, (director of cricket) Martyn Moxon got me in a room and ripped shreds off me. Some of the club officials were inhuman.
‘They weren’t really bothered about the fact that I was at training one day and I get a phone call to say there’s no heartbeat… I carried him from the hospital to the graveyard, how I’m being treated here is not right.’
And he was equally critical of his treatment at the hands of another England player, Tim Bresnan.
‘Tim and Andrew Gale are related: Tim is Andrew’s brother in-law,’ Rafiq said. ‘They always supported each other. Tim would tag along and join in with Andrew’s racist comments and they bounced off each other in terms of the bullying.
Rafiq also made claims over Tim Bresnan’s (left) behaviour at the club, saying he was among ‘six or seven’ players to have made a bullying complaint against the star in 2017. Rafiq said Matthew Hoggard (right) had apologised to him after abusing him
‘As with Andrew, Tim frequently made racist comments and was unduly harsh towards me compared to white British players, which became so unbearable that I made a formal complaint against him.’
Bresnan, who won 23 Test caps, later said: ‘For any part I played in contributing to Azeem Rafiq’s experience of feeling bullied at Yorkshire, I apologise unreservedly.’
In response to England captain Root saying last week that he did not recognise a racist culture at Yorkshire, Rafiq countered: ‘Rooty is a good man. He never engaged in racist language (but) I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary’s housemate and had been involved in a lot of the socialising where I was called a “P**i”.
‘It shows how normal it was that even a good man like him doesn’t see it for what it was. It’s not going to affect Joe, but it’s something I remember every day.’
Rafiq said ‘action is needed now’ and that he does not want his son ‘anywhere near’ cricket
Rafiq claimed that Jack Brooks, a two-time County Championship winner at Yorkshire, had branded India’s Cheteshwar Pujara with the disrespectful nickname ‘Steve’ during his overseas stint at the club.
And Rafiq slammed the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s role in the initial probe into his complaints, claiming Matthew Wood, his assigned personal development manager, was working ‘for Yorkshire, with Yorkshire’.
Meanwhile the club’s new chair, Lord Patel, said Rafiq should be praised for speaking up.
Rafiq added: ‘Action is needed now. We are sick and tired of these equity commissions and inquiries. All we are asking for is equality, to be treated fairly, regardless of the colour of our skin or the religion we follow. Just respect as a human race. It’s 2021, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation.
‘No one has ever been a whistleblower before, no one has ever had the courage to come forward because of the fear of not being believed. Do I believe I lost my career to racism? Yes, I do.
‘I’m a massive believer that everything happens for a reason. I hope in five years’ time we are going to see a big change, that I did something far bigger than any runs or any wickets I got.’
But he issued a stark warning for the game’s immediate future when he said: ‘I can’t imagine a parent, hearing me speak today, would want their child to go anywhere near cricket. I don’t want my son to go anywhere near the game.’