Racism in cricket: Azeem Rafiq fears he is unemployable after speaking out

England
Yorkshire

Azeem Rafiq fears he is unemployable in cricket after speaking out about the racism and bullying he suffered across two spells at Yorkshire.

The 31-year-old is passionate about working within the game as a coach or within the media but believes his decision to blow the whistle on what happened to him makes that impossible.

Rafiq‘s allegations led to radical changes in the county’s leadership, the stripping of international hosting rights for Headingley which have still not been fully restored, and prompted the England and Wales Cricket Board to enact a 12-point plan to tackle racism in the game.

He the former Yorkshire spinner now believes he is paying the price for being so candid.

“I feel like people are scared to be connected to me, because I will continue to fight for the truth,” he told the PA news agency at the Include Summit in Birmingham.

“I sit here as a 31-year-old, potentially unemployable, potentially (without) any hope of being around the game in the future, a game that I’ve loved for the majority of my life.

“Something that I thought, after letting off the burden that I’ve been carrying for a long time, that I’d be able to love again and start going back towards and follow my passion within it.

Coaching an option in future

“If an opportunity of work came, they would have to have me like this. I won’t be prepared to look the other way any longer.

“My passion away from playing is coaching. I’ve completed my Level Four course but didn’t do the assessment because it was around the time of the DCMS hearing.

“So that was one thing that I always wanted to do and the other thing was within a media, broadcasting. I just don’t know how I can come back when the game is still not accepting the reality. Of course I’d love to (come back).”

Rafiq’s harrowing testimony to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee last November ignited the debate around discrimination in cricket, and led to threats to his physical safety.

Azeem Rafiq
Azeem Rafiq gave evidence at the inquiry into racism at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee (House of Commons)

“I’m incredibly worried about something potentially happening to (my family) and just always having to look over your shoulder and be told by the authorities, ‘just be careful not to be here, not to be there’,” he added.

“I never expected things to be easy. But I don’t think I quite expected to come to a point where I went away from the country for a bit because of the safety threat to me.”

He says support from outside the game has been incredible, but the response from within cricket has been disappointing.

“It hurts,” he said.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club
Yorkshire were stripping of international hosting rights for Headingley which have still not been fully restored, (Danny Lawson/PA)

“Cricket as a whole still feels like there isn’t a problem, which is incredibly worrying. It wants to put this across as Azeem Rafiq’s experience. It’s not, it’s the experience of thousands of others.

“When I hear that there’s sympathy for the perpetrators, people who did wrong, and I’m seen as a problem – that is difficult for me to take.”

Rafiq said he has still not received a proper apology from Gary Ballance after his Yorkshire team-mate admitted directing a racial slur towards him.

“The only thing that Gary’s done throughout this is that statement (admitting using racist language towards Rafiq) that he put out when he got named, and even that was not an apology,” Rafiq said.

Concern over ECB plans

“It was very quick to, in my opinion, gaslight and talk about things that weren’t relevant. I haven’t had an apology to this day.”

Asked whether Yorkshire should allow Ballance to continue playing without a full apology, Rafiq said: “This is for Yorkshire to decide and how that reflects (on them).

“From the outside point of view, it does look a bit wrong that you’ve had a lot of people lose their jobs yet someone who did these things and was proven to have done these things is carrying on as normal. But it’s not my decision.”

Rafiq remains concerned that the ECB’s plans to tackle discrimination in the game will have any meaningful effect.

Gary Ballance
Gary Ballance, pictured, is a former England team-mate of Azeem Rafiq (Nick Potts/PA)

“The whole action plan is really difficult for me to have any faith in it because we’ve seen it before,” he said.

“A lot of these things that look great at the top, they look great on a PDF, it’s the delivery, and the delivery goes through a pipeline and by the time it reaches the bottom it breaks.

“There’s a massive disconnect, from the ECB to counties, from counties to club cricket. Until the pipe gets connected properly you’ll never know what’s actually being delivered at the bottom.

“I personally don’t feel like there’s still enough of an energy (to succeed). (Equality, diversity and inclusion) should be the only agenda. I honestly don’t care about how (England) went in Australia or anything, that should not be the first thing, this should be the first thing.

“If you sort this out and make the game more inclusive for everyone, over a period of time you’ll sort the cricket performance out anyway because you’ll have a larger and a better pool of talent to pick from.

“From a county point of view, they don’t actually think that there is a problem, which is incredibly worrying.”

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