Racism in cricket: Azeem Rafiq staggered despite Middlesex chair’s apology for comments

County Cricket

Azeem Rafiq says there is “a demographic of county chairs that don’t see the problem” of discrimination within cricket.

Middlesex chair Mike O’Farrell issued an apology on Tuesday afternoon after comments he made to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee were criticised by Rafiq and others.

Rafiq, who gave harrowing evidence to the same committee in November about the racial abuse he suffered at Yorkshire, said he was staggered by the remarks by O’Farrell, who appeared to offer generalisations about the reasons why individuals from the Afro-Caribbean and South Asian communities drifted away from the sport, and suggested counties did not get enough credit for the work they do.

Rafiq also took issue with Hampshire chair Rod Bransgrove’s claim that his county was “overachieving in some areas” on equality, diversity and inclusion.

“It just shows what a long way we’ve got to go,” Rafiq told Sky Sports News.

“These people have come to a select committee and said they think that they’re overachieving, that the counties don’t get enough credit. (I’m) pretty angry.

“I think it shows that maybe the problem lies with the counties a lot more than the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board). You’ve got a demographic of county chairs that don’t see the problem.

“I found it quite staggering to hear that one of the chairs felt that they were actually overachieving in this space.

“The way (new Yorkshire chair) Lord Patel spoke came from someone who not only has suffered, but gets it, and there’s a massive willingness to confront the issue.

“Whereas what I heard from the other (county chairs) was ‘we’re great, look at us, we do so many things in the community’. And this was exactly the same language that Yorkshire used in their defence with me.”

O’Farrell told the committee that 57 per cent of players at Middlesex at under-17 level were from culturally diverse backgrounds but that it became “more difficult” to keep that level of representation at older age-groups.

He said: “The football and rugby world becomes much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community, and in terms of the South Asian community…we’re finding that they do not want to commit necessarily the same time that is necessary to go to the next step because they prefer – not always saying they do it – they prefer to go into other educational fields where cricket becomes secondary.”

Rafiq said: “This narrative that we’ve been hearing for a long time that Asian people want to go and study is because we’ve not been made to feel welcome in our workspaces. I think it was incredibly disrespectful, but I think it just shows the wider problem.”

Ebony Rainford-Brent, a director at Surrey, tweeted: “These outdated views in the game are exactly why we are in this position.

“Unfortunately the decision-makers hold onto these myths. ‘The Black community only like football, and Asian community only interested in education’. Seriously, the game deserves better.”

O’Farrell issued a statement apologising for his remarks, and added: “I was aiming to make the point that as a game, cricket has failed a generation of young cricketers, in systematically failing to provide them with the same opportunities that other sports and sectors so successfully provide.

“Cricket has to take responsibility for these failings and must learn that until we make the game an attractive proposition for youngsters of all backgrounds to continue through the pathway into the professional game, much like other sports and sectors are doing, the game won’t make the progress it needs to.”

He said in a later interview with Sky Sports News that he was not planning to resign, but that he would step down if the Middlesex board or the club’s members wanted him to.

The committee were told that the ECB is looking at Mehmooda Duke’s decision to resign as Leicestershire chair last November.

Duke, who was the only female chair at any of the 18 first-class counties, said the sport had been “torn apart” by the allegations from Rafiq and others, and has since raised concerns confidentially with ECB board member Baroness Amos which are now being examined.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison told the committee it was not a formal investigation.

Committee chair Julian Knight asked whether someone external would be brought in to examine Duke’s concerns, adding: “Often within cricket there is just the aspect that people are marking their own homework all the time.”

Baroness Amos rejected the suggestion of a lack of transparency and said: “If something has been brought to me, marked private and confidential, on the back of a discussion, to characterise it as a lack of transparency I consider to be unfair.

“It is absolutely open for the committee to speak to Mehmooda Duke about her concerns and to put those on the record.”

Harrison had come before the committee to provide a progress update on the 12-point game-wide plan to tackle discrimination in the sport, which was first set out in late November.

He told MPs that former England captain Clare Connor would lead the promised review of dressing room culture, that a new anti-discrimination unit would be up and running by the end of May and revealed a new partnership with Kick It Out had been set up to identify and tackle issues around equity, diversity and inclusion in the sport.

A committee report published earlier this month said the ECB’s public funding should be limited if the game could not demonstrate meaningful progress to “clean up its act” on racism.

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