• Saturday, April 13, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

EXCLUSIVE: ‘They tried to destroy me’

Why Lord Patel is quitting as chair of Yorkshire Cricket

‘RELENTLESS’ CAMPAIGN: Lord Kamlesh Patel (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

By: BARNIE CHOUDHURY

A “small and privileged” unnamed racist group has cost Yorkshire County Cricket Club millions of pounds in sponsorship and legal fees, and it is one of the reasons why Lord Patel of Bradford is walking away from the game he loves.

In an exclusive interview, Patel told Eastern Eye that personal attacks on him had become a distraction and were harming the club, so he felt the right thing to do was to quit as chair.

“It was relentless,” said the peer speaking about ‘a viscous campaign’ to oust him. “I was working with hardly any staff, working with good friends and volunteers 24/7.

“All they were doing was trying to undermine me with procedural roadblocks.

“They cost the organisation, hundreds of 1000s of pounds, well, millions, if you talk about sponsorship that we’d lost because of their constant PR campaign, that constant attack, we lost a fortune in legal fees, defending the sort of untruths they were throwing about.

“Of course, they were giving voice to other people.

“It’s a real shame, and I don’t want to have a go at the media in any way shape or form, but it’s very clear from all the evidence that everybody’s said, that two or three media outlets were not prepared to listen to anything else except these people.

“We had a small group of people who worked with them, blatantly racist and just sent me racist letters, on social media, and they attacked me every single day.

“If I was a white chairman, none of that would have happened.”

Patel described the racism he faced as “extremely vile”.

The peer told this newspaper that most of Yorkshire backed everything he did.

But a vocal but powerful minority are still “bent on destroying” him and what he was trying to do.

Learning points

Patel also revealed that for the first time in his career he could not take people on a journey to show that conscious racism existed.

“I’ve learned a lot over the last 50, 60 years, but I was learning every day.

“One of the biggest things, in fact, it was interesting, a journalist told it to me, ‘On the first day, you said, when you had your press conference, I said, I like to take people on a journey. Good, bad and indifferent, I’ll take everybody on the journey, and try my best to give them ownership to see where the direction of travel is.’

“If I’m going to say that in future, I will say, I will try and take people on the journey.

“But on that journey, some people get off the bus quicker than others.

“Because my belief as a social worker, is that everybody can change, and if given the right support and guidance.

“But some people can’t when it comes to racism, and discrimination, and not seeing what’s what they can’t [change].

“I think I’d be saying, yeah, there’s, there’ll be people who, from childhood have been brought up to believe some of the people are inferior to them, and they will not change.

“Sometimes there’s not enough time and energy and effort to help people travel from a position where they are to another position.”

Lord Kamlesh Patel (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Close friends of the chair, who will step down in March, were astonished by this statement.

“I’ve known and worked closely with Kamlesh for 30-odd years,” said one source, “and I’ve never seen or heard him admit defeat.

“He’s always been able to take people with him, and to hear him talking like this is a wake-up call to all institutions.

“If Kamlesh says you can’t help some people, you’d better sit up and take notice and pray your club, your office, your organisation doesn’t have hardened racists in your midst.”

Terrific progress

But where was the evidence that the club was institutionally racist and that its procedures and practices discriminated against non-white people?

“We’ve made some terrific changes in terms of young people and the children to engage with cricket and the pathways,” said the peer.”

“We’ve gone from something like two per cent of our pathways’ children, where the children are coming to professional cricket are from a black and ethnic minority community to over a third being in the team.

“Over a 60 per cent increase in people accessing and coming to trials, incredible in the space of six months, and a lot of hard work has gone into that.”

In 2021, the England and Wales Cricket board approached Patel to investigate claims of racism at Headingly.

It followed powerful testimony from the club’s former captain, Azeem Rafiq, before the culture and sport select committee.

The peer agreed and began his inquiry in November that year.

On the day he was appointed, Patel told a news conference what he had already put in place.

They included:

  • settling the employment tribunal with Rafiq, without a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), as the club previously requested.
  • setting up an independent whistleblowing hotline for other victims of discrimination to come forward.
  • commissioning a review of practices and procedures on diversity and inclusion at the club.
  • sharing the full report into Rafiq’s allegations with parties who had a “legal interest”, including Rafiq’s lawyers, the ECB and MPs.

In December 2021, weeks after Patel’s tenure began, 16 people left Yorkshire.

They included the director of cricket Martyn Moxon, head coach Andrew Gale and all members of the coaching staff.

Vile racism

That, Patel said, triggered a vicious attack on him.

“I’ve faced extremely vile racism in the past, but it was the manner, the relentless nature i.e., daily.

“People giving their addresses and names, calling me all the names under the Sun without ever having met me or having any understanding of what was going on, egged on by this small group of people.

“I must put on record, this is not just a Yorkshire problem; this is a cricket wide problem.

“And I hope we’ll see that when the independent equity commission on cricket reports.

“We had absolutely several decades of people who came and complained to me.

“So, this wasn’t just about Azeem Rafiq.

“Hundreds of people came to me and said, this has been going on this happened to my child or this happen to me when I was a child at Yorkshire.

“So, this is not just that everything spotlights on Azeem, he was the only one brave enough to step up and carry on the battle.

“Others just give up, and I think had I not been in the position I was I would have given up because it was just relentless, and you’re fighting the system.

“But this is across the game of cricket, and this is a big issue.

“You’ve had absolute proof that discrimination is taking place, potentially unlawful discrimination.

“These people still believe nothing was wrong.”

Things got especially bad during the annual general meeting in 2022, when a small group waged a social media and press campaign to stop Patel becoming the club’s chair.

ECB

The peer told Eastern Eye that the England and Wales Cricket Board [ECB] asked him to deliver the impossible.

We can disclose that the ECB urged him to get rid of people.

Patel never badmouths people or organisations. But he revealed to this newspaper that when the going got tough, the ECB did not back him.

“Being a member of ECB for five and a half years, I understood their role, and what they needed to do, and where the boundaries would cross.

“But this was a unique situation where I was asked by the ECB to come and help and turn this disaster around.

“I was asked by ECB to meet a set of criteria that most people would have winced at, would have thought there’s no way we can deliver this, and I delivered it.

“I was asked by the ECB to work with them to create a framework and an environment where we would prove to the world that we want a non-racist institution, and I did all that.

“I was asked by the ECB to ensure some people who were there from the previous regime did not take part in that governance process, very clear about that.

“So, when I’m attacked, for things that I have been asked to do, I’ve been attacked from all quarters, where the ECB could have made the statement and could have come and supported.

“And when I sent letter after letter to them, to say you asked me to do this, I’ve done it, and now I need your support to back me up on it, that wasn’t forthcoming.

“Now, whether that’s me or somebody else, if that happens in the future, they’re not gonna encourage anybody else to go on this journey.

“If you’re gonna ask people to come and put their necks on the line, to achieve radical change, to make change, and not support that change, then why would anybody do it?”

Azeem Rafiq

That does not surprise the man at the centre of the racism allegations, Azeem Rafiq.

“I look at the way Lord Patel’s been treated by the game, not just the old guard at Yorkshire, but by the game.

“And that just shows to me that actually everything’s lip service.

“I didn’t know Lord Patel before his coming in.

“But what an honourable man, he’s done some of the biggest real life things, in his career and in the House of Lords for 20 years and he got treated that way, and by the game.

“Let’s not mask this as a Yorkshire only problem and the Yorkshire old guard.”

We approached the ECB for comment, but it declined.

Future 

Patel told this newspaper that he is convinced that Yorkshire is in a better position than when he found it.

The former England and Yorkshire pace bowler Darren Gough is now the permanent managing director of cricket.

Ex-West Indies all-rounder Ottis Gibson was appointed head coach in January 2022, while Stephen Vaughan became the club’s chief executive.

The peer described the past 15-months at Yorkshire as “a year unlike any other”.

And he admitted, with a rueful smile, that he had learnt a lot.

“I’ve never gone on the race card.

“It’s not about me. You see me as you get me. I’ll work with things. I’ll try and do things right.

“Occasionally I make mistakes, but I’ll rectify them quickly, if I have.

“I do not believe fundamentally, I do not believe, that I did anything wrong at Yorkshire.

“I think all the actions I took were absolutely right.

“And would taking them again? Yes, I’d take them all over again. I’d probably be even stronger in what I did.”

The Yorkshire cricket saga has taken its toll.

Patel revealed that this year he will step down from various roles, including Social Work England and Chair, Independent Health Providers Network (IHPN).

It is time, he said, to take a break and spend time with his family.

During his conversation with Eastern Eye, Patel talked about “elephants in the room” when he was helping his favourite county and favourite cricket club.

And one elephant, he agreed, was the fact some white people still have a problem taking instructions from brown people.

“Yeah, I am brown, and I’m Indian, but I’m a Yorkshireman through and through.

“I love Yorkshire, and that’s why I went to do the job I did.”

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