Cricket: Azeem Rafiq says English cricket is ‘institutionally racist’ in damning testimony

Former England youth representative Azeem Rafiq has described to British MPs how he was screamed at and belittled by bosses three weeks after his son was stillborn amid a trend of abusive behaviour at Yorkshire cricket club.

In harrowing testimony, he said a culture of abuse and racist attacks stretched back to him being pinned down by a future team-mate aged 15 and having red wine forced down his throat.

Rafiq, now 30, was left fighting back tears as he told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee how his “humiliating” and “isolating” treatment continued throughout the next decade.

Detailing the full extent of his anguish for the first time, Rafiq told the committee that the club then showed him no compassion as he grieved his stillborn son during his last months at the club in 2018.

Instead, Martyn Moxon, the club’s director of cricket, had “ripped the shreds off me” in their first meeting after the personal heartbreak for his family.

“Some of the club officials were inhuman,” said Rafiq. “They weren’t really bothered about the fact that I was at training one day and I get a phone call to say there’s no heartbeat.”

Detailing years of bullying racist behaviour at the hands of team-mates, Rafiq described being left “isolated” almost immediately after coming into contact with the senior squad as a teenager.

“There were comments such as, ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant washers’,” he told the committee.

“The word P— was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”

In his separate witness statement published after the hearing, Rafiq had also detailed how the systematic abuse had left him with suicidal thoughts and his wife had tried to take her own life.

“My wife was struggling herself after the loss of our son – the club were aware that she had attempted suicide,” he said in his statement.

Mark Arthur, the chief executive who quit last week, and Moxon, now signed off with stress, faced the severest criticism for failing to pursue his allegations when he raised them in 2018, around the same time as his son’s death.

“My dad had personally phoned Mark Arthur and told him as a family that they were struggling with how to deal with the situation to the point that I was coming home in tears and very emotional, adding to the already stressful pregnancy situation,” Rafiq said in his statement.

Detailing his years of abuse, Rafiq said the word P— was used constantly in Yorkshire’s dressing room when he joined the cricket club but senior figures at the club turned a blind eye.

“I lost my career to racism,” he said. “My kids have not had a dad for the last 15 months as all I’ve been worried about is Yorkshire trying to discredit me. It has been challenging, but hopefully this provides some closure.”

Rafiq, a Muslim, described how aged 15 he had red wine “poured down his throat” at his local club by a Yorkshire cricketer. “Going past a corner shop, I was asked if my uncle owned it,” he added. “Martyn Moxon and Andrew Gale [head coach] were there. It never got stamped out.”

He added that “I don’t want my son to go anywhere near cricket” after the experiences he has faced.

He detailed some of the other racist language alleged to have been said by Gary Ballance, who admitted prior to the hearing that he had called Rafiq a “P—” but meant no offence.

“We were in a place and Gary Ballance walks over and goes, ‘Why are you talking to him? You know he’s a P—‘,” said Rafiq. “‘He’s not a sheikh, he’s got no oil’. This happened in front of team-mates. It happened in front of coaching staff.”

Rafiq added that he had repeatedly tried to get his voice heard, but little attention was paid to him.

Telegraph Sport reported last week how both Arthur and Moxon are accused in Yorkshire’s report of failing to respond to three separate warnings in 2018.

Instead, Rafiq said he was labelled a troublemaker after making a bullying complaint against his team-mate Tim Bresnan. “If you speak out your life is going to be made hell. Denial, briefings, cover-ups, smearing,” Rafiq added.

Rafiq described how his son was stillborn after his wife had a “really difficult” pregnancy in late 2017, shortly before he formally raised his complaints.

Gale, suspended last week over an anti-Semitic tweet, was also criticised for showing Rafiq a lack of sympathy while he was grieving.

“Around the loss of my son, the attitude of Andrew Gale…[was that] I was making it out to be more than what it was.”

He said his eventual official complaint about bullying directly led to his subsequent release in 2018.

Rafiq added: “All I wanted to do is play cricket and play for England and live my dream and live my family’s dream. In my first spell, I don’t really think I quite realised what it was. I think I was in denial.”

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