English cricket is beginning to pick up the pieces after Azeem Rafiq’s damning revelations about racism in the game swept up a handful of household names.
Rafiq’s visceral testimony in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee on Tuesday shone an uncomfortable light on institutions and individuals, with longstanding grievances against Yorkshire amplified by specific new allegations against a slew of former England internationals.
Tim Bresnan, Matthew Hoggard, Alex Hales, Gary Ballance and David Lloyd were all subject to fresh claims of racial discrimination, as was Yorkshire’s suspended head coach Andrew Gale.
Rafiq told MPs over the course of almost an hour and 40 minutes of explosive, emotional evidence that he wished to become “the voice of the voiceless” in the issue of race in cricket and used his platform to give a disturbing account of his own experiences.
He claimed Ballance’s derogatory use of the term ‘Kevin’ as a blanket term for all people of colour was “an open secret in the England dressing room” and further alleged that Hales had given the name to his black dog.
Ballance, Bresnan, Hoggard and Gale are all accused of making racist comments to Rafiq on a regular basis in front of team-mates and club employees.
Bresnan later apologised unreservedly for “any part I played in contributing to Azeem Rafiq’s experience of being bullied” but stressed the accusation he frequently made racist comments was “absolutely not true”.
But his current club, county champions Warwickshire, have vowed to take the claims seriously and chair Mark McCafferty says he will seek discussions with Rafiq “at the earliest opportunity” to explore the matter.
Hoggard, Hales and Gale have yet to respond to requests for comment, while Ballance has opted not to add to his own previous statement on his relationship with Rafiq, which included an apology. Rafiq also revealed that Hoggard had phoned him to say sorry last year.
Former England batter, coach and current Sky commentator Lloyd did decide to make a public statement after he was mentioned at the DCMS session. Rafiq suggested Lloyd exchanged disparaging messages about him in private – a symptom of what he saw as a wider attempt to discredit his story.
Sky has said it is investigating the matter and Lloyd posted on Twitter: “I deeply regret my actions, and I apologise most sincerely to Azeem and to the Asian cricket community for doing this, and for any offence caused.”
England captain Joe Root was deemed a “good man” by Rafiq, and exonerated of using any racist language, but Rafiq has clearly stated he was there when such abuse occurred – contrary to his own recollections.
“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***’,” he said.
“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.”
Baroness Warsi, the first British Muslim cabinet minister and now serving in the House of Lords, has called on the England and Wales Cricket Board to lead a period of change.
Apparently unimpressed by the select committee appearance of an ECB delegation after Rafiq, led by chief executive Tom Harrison, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What was disappointing for me yesterday was the way in which the ECB felt they could step aside in the past because the clubs accused of racism wanted to mark their own homework.
“So it is time for the ECB to be involved with a full inquiry which includes a truth and reconciliation process that allows anonymity because that is what players want. What happened to Azeem was the tip of the iceberg in Yorkshire and what we are seeing happening in Yorkshire is the tip of the iceberg as to what is happening in English cricket.
“I have spoken, as has Azeem and others, to many young and talented players – players who have now given up cricket because of what they have faced in other counties and clubs up and down the country and this is an endemic issue.”
Former Essex player Zoheb Sharif revisited his own recent allegations of racism at Essex, calling on the club, and others, to act decisively.
He told Good Morning Britain: “It is really sad that it still goes on and hopefully now with Azeem talking, and a few others talking, we can put an end to this once and for all.
“I don’t think Essex have formally launched an investigation yet. I spoke a little bit to the chairman at Essex. I hope they are (taking it seriously), especially with Azeem’s case. It is not just me, there are others at Essex who have come out, too.”
Essex chair John Stephenson has acknowledged Sharif’s claims, declaring himself “shocked and saddened” and outlining a “zero tolerance policy towards racism” at Chelmsford.