Yorkshire punished for ‘extremely serious’ misconduct in Azeem Rafiq racism case

Yorkshire have been fined and docked points in two formats over the club’s “extremely serious” misconduct in relation to the racism experienced by former player Azeem Rafiq.

The club were fined GBP 400,000 – GBP 300,000 of which is suspended for two years – and docked 48 County Championship points and four in the T20 Blast from this season’s competitions by an independent Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) panel after admitting four charges.

Yorkshire released a statement accepting the sanctions. The punishment means Yorkshire drop from sixth to bottom of Division Two in the Championship, all but ending their promotion chances, while they go from fifth to eighth in the North Group of the already-completed 2023 Blast, a competition where they failed to qualify for the knockout stages.

Rafiq initially spoke out in 2020 about the racism and bullying he experienced across two spells at the county, between 2008 and 2014 and between 2016 and 2018. He also gave harrowing testimony about his experiences to the Culture, Media and Sport parliamentary committee in November 2021.

The first charge the county admitted was the mishandling of their response to an independent report prompted by Rafiq’s allegations.

The second related to what the panel found to be the “deliberate” deletion of emails relevant to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) investigation into Yorkshire, the third to their handling of racism complaints more widely and the fourth to a failure to address the “systemic use” of racist and or discriminatory language over a prolonged period, set in the panel findings as being between 2004 and 2021.

“The overall misconduct in this case must be regarded as extremely serious within both the sporting and wider societal contexts,” the CDC panel’s written reasons confirming the sanctions stated.

“The latter of course is not our concern – but the cricketing context is. The gravity lies not just within the nature of the discrimination itself, but because the message must be made clear to all who administer and who play the professional game, and to all those who administer cricket and who play elsewhere, that such conduct is wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“Complaint is made by Yorkshire that the sanctions which the ECB has asked the panel to consider are more severe than any sanction the CDC has imposed before. Yorkshire are right – in this panel’s experience this is the most serious case in respect of a first-class county which has been brought before the CDC.”

At a sanctions hearing on June 27, Yorkshire had called for any punishments imposed to be suspended. The ECB had called at the same hearing for the CDC to impose a GBP 500,000 fine on Yorkshire, with GBP 350,000 of it suspended.

ECB lawyer Jane Mulcahy said it would be “wholly unproductive” to try to put Yorkshire out of business, with the club having highlighted a GBP 3.5million cash shortfall to members at their annual general meeting back in March, and the need to repay GBP 14.9m to their creditors the Graves Trust.

The panel recognised the “fragile” nature of the club’s finances, but said it would be an “affront” to those who had suffered as a consequence of the breaches Yorkshire had admitted if there was no financial penalty.

On the same day as the sanctions hearing took place, the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) published its damning report which found racism was “entrenched” in the sport.

Regarding the second charge concerning the mass deletion of emails and documents, the panel said it was satisfied the deletions “were both deliberate and were of emails relevant to the investigations being undertaken by both the ECB and internally”.

Yorkshire had their right to host lucrative international matches withdrawn over their handling of the Rafiq case
Yorkshire had their right to host lucrative international matches withdrawn over their handling of the Rafiq case (Mike Egerton/PA)

Yorkshire issued an apology to Rafiq in September 2021, accepting he had been the victim of racial harassment and bullying, but the following month the club said no individual would face disciplinary action over the report’s findings.

The club’s handling of the case led to sponsors deserting in their droves, calls for “heads to roll” at Yorkshire from the then Health Secretary Sajid Javid, and to the ECB withdrawing Yorkshire’s right to host lucrative international matches at Headingley until governance changes were made.

The panel and the ECB recognised the work done to make Yorkshire more inclusive, first by Lord Kamlesh Patel during his time as chair between November 2021 and March of this year, and subsequently by the current leadership.

The panel gave “significant weight” to efforts to remedy past failings but said those changes did not mean sanctions should not be imposed.

“If a company could avoid penalties simply by changing their employees after any wrongdoing, that would undermine the whole premise of corporate responsibility,” the written reasons stated.

“The internal upheavals may amount to some mitigation, albeit brought by the club upon itself, but it cannot render past misconduct incapable of sanction.”

The panel ordered the GBP 100,000 to be paid in equal instalments on January 1, March 1, June 1 and September 1 next year.

Yorkshire accepted the sanctions but said in a statement: “We are disappointed to receive the points deductions which affects players and staff at the club, who were not responsible for the situation.

“They have worked tirelessly on and off the field to rebuild Yorkshire into an inclusive and welcoming club that reflects the communities it serves. Greater clarity over our situation will allow us all now to look ahead.

“There remains much to do, but we have made significant investments to put in place best practice processes and procedures, as well as driving equity, diversity and inclusion through a new framework and taking important steps to improve the matchday experience to encourage greater inclusivity and tackle discrimination.

“We look forward to continued dialogue with the ECB to ensure the financial penalty does not hinder our ongoing commitment to build on the strong foundations that have been laid.”

ECB chief executive Richard Gould added: “These were serious charges relating to racism over a prolonged period.

“There can be no place for racism in our game, and the penalties announced by the Cricket Discipline Commission mark the end of a thorough disciplinary process.

“No one should have to experience what Azeem Rafiq went through in cricket, and we once again thank him for his courage in speaking out.”

Rafiq has been approached for comment.