FILE PHOTO: Azeem Rafiq of Yorkshire appeals during a NatWest T20 blast between Yorkshire Vikings and Durham at Headingley. (Photo by Richard Sellers/Getty Images)
PUBLIC MONEY should be withheld from cricket unless the sport makes clear progress in rooting out “deep-seated” racism brought to light by a scandal at Yorkshire, British lawmakers said on Friday (14).
Former player Azeem Rafiq, 30, delivered harrowing testimony to MPs in November in which he said his career had been ended by the abuse he received at the English county side.
The offspinner, who had dreamed of playing for England, said cricket was blighted by institutional racism “up and down the country”.
The fallout for Yorkshire over the crisis has been devastating, with sponsors making a mass exodus and the club suspended from hosting lucrative international matches.
There has also been a mass clear-out at the club’s Headingley headquarters, with wholesale departures from the boardroom and coaching staff while a new chairman, Kamlesh Patel, has become the face of a fresh regime.
The parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, in its report published on Friday (14), said cricket chiefs had to act decisively to rid the game of racism.
MPs pointed to the language used in correspondence with the committee and attempts to “discredit” Rafiq in the media as evidence that a “long and difficult road” lay ahead.
The lawmakers called on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to develop a set of key indicators and then provide updates to the committee every quarter on its progress, or face a cut to government funding.
“We are watching closely and fully intend to ensure that cricket cleans up its act,” the report said.
“We recommend that the government ensures that any future public funds for cricket are dependent on continuous, demonstrable progress in getting rid of racism in both the dressing rooms and on the stands.”
The committee paid tribute to Pakistan-born Rafiq for “his conviction that this was not simply a personal issue but an endemic problem across the whole of cricket”.
MPs set up the inquiry after Yorkshire announced there would be no disciplinary action taken against any individual despite an investigation concluding that Rafiq had experienced bullying and racial harassment during his stints at the county.
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston told the committee in November he was prepared to deploy the “nuclear option” of an independent regulator if the ECB failed to get its house in order.
Later that month, the ECB published a 12-point game-wide plan to tackle discrimination, with under-fire chief executive Tom Harrison describing allegations made by Rafiq and other former players from different counties as an “earthquake” for the English game.
Committee chairman Julian Knight has warned the “jury is out on the ECB leadership and also on Tom Harrison”, who also gave evidence to the committee.
“If the ECB fails in this, it’s an existential crisis for the ECB,” Knight told Britain’s Press Association.
Barry O’Brien, interim ECB chairman, welcomed the committee’s recommendations and the focus on achieving “real change”, saying the governing body was determined to rid the sport of racism.
“We also embrace the ongoing scrutiny of the committee and all those that love the game of cricket who will be watching closely as we undertake the continuous, demonstrable, progress in eradicating racism from the dressing room and from the stands,” he added.
New Yorkshire chairman Patel welcomed the MPs’ call for “demonstrable action” and said the club had already made some progress.
“Azeem Rafiq’s testimony was a watershed moment for the sport as a whole, and we are committed to ensuring that no-one endures the unacceptable experience that he did at Yorkshire County Cricket Club,” he said.
The county could still face further punishment as a result of an ongoing ECB investigation into how it dealt with Rafiq’s complaints.