By: Barnie Choudhury
Cricket’s governing body, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), must immediately investigate racism at all levels of the sport.
That is the demand from Bradford West MP, Naz Shah.
Speaking exclusively to Eastern Eye, Shah said that the game was institutionally, structurally and systemically racist, and the problem went beyond Yorkshire.
“It’s very important the ECB shows leadership on this,” she said. “The ECB is in a position to demonstrate that now over the next few weeks and months to get the ball rolling in the right direction and pull it back from the where it’s been heading towards.”
Yorkshire has been mired in controversy over claims by spin-bowler, Azeem Rafiq, that he had been called a P***i on several occasions and by different and senior team members.
The report, which found Rafiq had faced “racial harassment and bullying”, has never been published, and now the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has written to Yorkshire asking for a copy.
The panel refused to punish anyone claiming it was “friendly banter”.
But the club’s chair and several directors resigned after several days of public criticism, sponsors pulling out of lucrative deals, and the ECB stopping Headingly holding money-making international test cricket.
The new chair is Lord Patel of Bradford.
In his first news conference since being appointed last Friday (5), the peer apologised to Rafiq and promised swift action.
“Azeem is a whistle-blower and should be praised as such he should never have been put through this,” he said.
“I’d like to apologise to him. We are sorry for what you and your family experienced, and the way in which we’ve handled this.
“What happened to you must never happen again to anyone.”
The club has also paid Rafiq and undisclosed sum and settled his employment tribunal claim.
Surprisingly, Rafiq has not signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which is usually a standard clause in most settlements.
That means the cricketer can speak about his experiences at the club whenever he wishes without fear of legal action.
Patel apologised to the cricketer that the club had asked that of him as a condition of the legal settlement.
In a statement Rafiq said, “I brought a legal claim because the club refused to acknowledge the problem and create change.
“For the first time that I can remember, I have hoped this might happen, but I will be watching and continue to campaign to ensure that it does.”
Patel told the news conference that he spent six-and-a-half-hours speaking to Rafiq over the weekend.
“I’ve personally asked him to sit on my shoulder and challenge me on what I do,” said the peer.
“He had a lot of things to say. He has phenomenal cricket intelligence.
“My understanding is this was never about him and other individuals. It was about the system, the structures and processes, the fact we just missed the obvious.
“It was difficult. It was actually quite sad. It was tough for me; it was incredibly tough for him. And you did feel, why would we do this to any human being?”
Former England left-arm spinner, Monty Panesar, welcomed Patel’s speedy progress and initiatives in tackling racism at Yorkshire.
But he urged anyone who felt they had been affected to contact the independent whistleblowing hotline set up by the peer to create a “safe place” for those who had faced racism.
“This is your time to be heard, so pick up the phone, if you feel you’ve had any sort of racial discrimination,” said the cricket pundit.
“The real challenge for the ECB is to ask parents and children to speak up and say, what are you facing?
“This is the time for listening, this is a time for people to be heard, and that’s why I encourage everyone, please, just get on the phone and speak up.”
The club’s botched inquiry panel, which included three south Asians, concluded that the racist abuse was “friendly banter”.
It prompted the health secretary, Sajid Javid, among others, to take to social media.
P**i is not banter,” he Tweeted. “Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If @ECB_cricket doesn’t take action it’s not fit for purpose.”
“Paki” is not banter.
Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC.
If @ECB_cricket doesn’t take action it’s not fit for purpose. https://t.co/guiMHVuGEe
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) November 2, 2021
His cabinet colleague and sport secretary, Nadine Dorries, also reacted on social media.
Azeem Rafiq’s treatment after the racism he faced was disgusting, and the investigation that followed only makes it even worse. The @ECB_cricket investigation must be swift and fully transparent. Racism must be confronted, and NEVER written off as just “banter”. https://t.co/efN7xQIS6P
— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) November 2, 2021
But Yorkshire is not the only club where racism appears to be rampant, and white officials block progress.
Eastern Eye has spoken to the mother of a south Asian cricketer who was stopped from winning a contract at one club and eventually forced out of the sport he loved because it happened repeatedly.
She is in no doubt that the club and its officials were racist.
“I’m not some tiger-mum who thinks her son’s amazing and should be captain of England,” said the mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Azeem [Rafiq], Adil [Rashid] and Alastair [Cook] all saw my son in action in several matches, and they all said he was an all-rounder who should be in county cricket and would one day play for England.
“My son had offers to play from several clubs, but at the last moment they were rescinded.
“When we investigated, we found that coaches were ringing other coaches and telling them not to pick my son but white cricketers. In effect, he’d been black-balled.
“It’s not just in Yorkshire that racism exists. It’s happening in Lancashire, Durham and Leicestershire – in fact it’s a disease in every county.
“It’s easy to point at one club, but this is an epidemic of racism. How can the ECB stand by and do nothing?”
Shah told Eastern Eye that she was not surprised by this mother’s story.
“I’ve had that conversation where young people have left cricket because they’ve been they’ve not been promoted, they’ve not been allowed to reach their full potential,” said the MP.
“They’ve been blocked, and it is very, very worrying. This is not something just applicable to Yorkshire cricket.
“We still see racism in wider sport, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to us.
“The real tragedy is that cricket is like a religion to people from south Asian communities.”
Last November the ECB set up the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket to examine race and other disparities.
“They actually want to hold the mirror up to the ECB and say have a look, guys, this is what it looks like,” Panesar told Eastern Eye.
“I’m sure they’ll do a thorough investigation, then we’ll probably get a better understanding of which areas we need to improve.”
Last week (2) the media and sport select committee said it would ask questions of the club.
Committee chair, Julian Knight said, “We are extremely concerned by recent reports about the lack of action against individuals following the findings.
“It’s clear that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has questions to answer. We have monitored developments around the club’s handling of the serious allegations made by Azeem Rafiq.
“We want to see much greater transparency from YCCC, it is time for them to answer their critics.
“We intend to call the chair of the club before the DCMS Committee to give a much fuller explanation than we have had so far.”
That hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday (16), and that was before the then chair, Roger Hutton, resigned.
Eastern Eye understands that the committee has not decided who will appear before it now several board members have left.
“It’s clear to me that we’ve handled this issue badly, and the investigation was flawed,” Patel told journalists.
“We need to learn from our mistakes and ensure the right people in place and ensure we do better.”
In a statement, an ECB spokesperson said, “Yorkshire CCC serves a huge British south Asian community [sic], and the club now needs to turn itself around and become all that it should be for local communities and beyond.
“On a wider scale, we set-up the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) in March 2021 to evaluate the state of equity in the game and consider realities of people’s experiences around discrimination.
“Chaired by Cindy Butts, it will be examining questions of equity in relation to race, gender and class within the game.
“We hope those who have experienced any form of discrimination will share their experiences with the ICEC.
“This will help to shape their report, which will include recommendations to the ECB on the steps which can be taken to improve equity in the game.”
PROFILE: Lord Patel of Bradford
Plain-speaking peer unafraid of “poisoned chalice”
Lord Kamlesh Patel has the scars of cricket throughout his body, writes Barnie Choudhury.
From broken fingers to torn ligaments, the peer has endured injury after injury to play the game he has loved since he was a child in his adopted Bradford home.
“I should know better at my age, but it’s cricket,” is his usual response when he needs yet another visit to accident and emergency.
Patel is a proud Yorkshireman, and he did not hide his hurt, when he appeared before the world’s press on Monday (8), that his club, his county, and his sport had been found guilty of racism and yet decided to go into bat.
“I’ve experienced racial abuse throughout my life, and some of my earliest childhood memories are overt and painful racism,” he told the news conference.
“It’s an experience that I think I’ve shared with a few of you in the past before.
“When I was a child, I was a really fast runner than I am now. Why was I a really fast runner?
“Because almost every other weekend or every weekend a local group of skinheads would go out and engage in P**i bashing. You got beaten up.
“So, it’s fairly obvious that words like P**i in any context can never be regarded as banter.”
The peer does not seek publicity. He does not court controversy. And in government circles, of all colours, this popular independent lord is “a safe pair of hands who sorts out messes”.
He has promised “seismic change”, and that should send a chill down any racist’s back. But he wants to work with people and “take them on a journey” of understanding.
That is his style of leadership. The ability to engage. The ability to listen actively. The ability to take tough decisions and act decisively.
In 72-hours he gave hope to those in Yorkshire, and not least of all to his club.
“I will be commissioning a specialist independent review of processes and procedures on diversity and inclusion, including discrimination against those with protected characteristics, gender, race, religion disability,” he told a room packed with journalists.
“We need to look at our processes and procedures around reporting incidents of racism, abuse, discrimination, or bullying of any kind, informed by what has happened here, over the past 18 months.”
Friends have told Eastern Eye that the peer knows his role is to make sure the club is governed properly.
He will not interfere in the day-to-day running of Yorkshire cricket.
But that means his board and he will hold the chief executive and his leadership team to account as never before.
Patel is the right person for this role. In 2020, he stepped down as deputy-chair and senior independent director of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
During his time, he created the ECB’s strategy to reach out to the thousands of south Asians who play cricket but do not engage with mainstream clubs.
His links with the ECB will be vital for Yorkshire’s rehabilitation, not least because, as an independent, he is trusted by the sport’s watchdog.
Patel’s disarming demeanour and collegiate nature hide a backbone of steel, and a fierce determination to ensure a fair playing field for all.
As one close friend told Eastern Eye,
“He is humble and not your typical idea of a lord. It’s Kamlesh and not Lord Patel.
“But don’t be fooled. His plain-speaking belies a strategic mind.
“Never ever go up against this guy. He is phenomenally intelligent.
“He grew up facing racism. “He is wonderfully grounded. Kamlesh worked in a restaurant, became a special constable, trained as an ambulance driver, then became a social worker.
“All his experiences inform his thinking. Just read his reports.”
Over several decades, Patel has quietly, and without fuss, highlighted the stark challenges that face vulnerable people of all backgrounds.
He pioneered research into drug abuse among south Asian communities when the authorities and communities said it was non-existent.
Patel was the chair of the Mental Health Act Commission when the government published a damning independent report into the death of David “Rocky” Bennett.
The peer persuaded the Labour administration to carry out an annual census of mental health patients.
For the first time, for five successive years, because of an annual census we knew the ethnicity of every patient needing treatment.
It revealed that some ethnic minority groups were 18-times more likely to be sectioned than white communities.
And when he told the news conference that “he would work 24-7” to solve the problems and make Yorkshire proud again, only a fool would not believe him.
As he revealed to our sister publication, the GG2 Power List earlier this year, he works an average 12-hour day – cutting back from his traditional 18.
“Hard work has never been an issue. That’s come from my mum and dad, the 24-seven-365 work concept,” he told the GG2 Power List. “They did their best to look after their children, and now, I hope, I’ve done my best to look after my children.
“I went on my first ever holiday, and I was forced on that, at the age of 30. I’ve never been one of those to lie on the beach for two weeks. If I go abroad, my laptop will be coming with me.
“I don’t advocate this for other people in terms of good mental well-being or a good balance of family life and work. I can give everybody all the best advice, but I just need to take some of it myself.”
Although that is unlikely, others who have contacted Eastern Eye and know Patel well, are concerned he has been handed a poisoned chalice.
The Bradford West MP, Naz Shah, welcomed Patel’s appointment but warned he could not solve the deep seated and ingrained problems on his own.
“Lord Patel has to demonstrate some leadership, and I’m confident he will do because he is a fellow Bradfordian, and he’s passionate about cricket,” said the MP.
“His reputation precedes him in terms of him doing the right thing. What he needs to do is to get people in a room, and there needs to be some brave conversations.
“You can’t be digging your heels in. This is not the time to dig heels in. This is a time to accept that what has happened has been wrong.
“That acceptance is the first step towards them making amends, and if they don’t get there, then I’m afraid we’re not in a good position.”
And the former England spinner, Monty Panesar, has offered to help.
“I’m happy to sit down with Lord Patel, and the thing is, we know he can’t do it by himself.
“He needs people around him to support him, and if he needs any help or support, I’m happy to help him.”
Those Eastern Eye have spoken to are not surprised by the speed at which he has brought a renewed sense of hope to the sport.
One close friend said, “The thing with Kamlesh is that he’s a man of action. He gets things done.
“The south Asians communities are so divided, so riven with jealousies and inter-community disputes, they will be judging Kamlesh on making sure he creates an unrecognisable club to what it is now.
“The real test will be when he goes. Will it be the same old Yorkshire?”
That may be answered in an example, one long standing friend said.
“The Patel report looking into drug-related crime and rehabilitating offenders in 2010 remains influential and cited as best practice in its field,” said our source.
The government appointed Patel as the first chair of Social Work England, which started in December 2019.
“So, it is little wonder the prime minister reappointed him for a second term, months before his old contract ended, to chair the body which regulates social workers.”
As Patel revealed to the GG2 Power List, his approach is deceptively simple.
“There is a fine balance. We’re not there to represent the professionals as a trade body. We’re there to regulate.
“But we believe by sharing good information, sharing good practice by working together, we can help improve the standards of social work practice.”
That sharing of “good-practice by working together” is his hallmark.
Yorkshire County Cricket Club should strap itself in for a journey it has never witnessed in its 158-year history.
If Patel gets his way, and he usually does, then it will emerge the better for it.
As he told the world, “I’ve been appointed with a clear remit of righting the wrongs of the past and making sure that this club is an inclusive home for aspiring players in the future.
“The revelations about complaints of racial discrimination and their handling at this cricket club over the past eighteen months have rocked the sporting world.
“But let me be clear from the outset, racism, or any form of discrimination, is not banter.”