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Every professional cricket player must listen to the experience of Azeem Rafiq and consider whether they have witnessed racist behaviour in the sport, an MP has said.
Alex Sobel, the Labour MP for Leeds North West – where Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s Headingley ground is located, said testimony given to MPs on Monday by Mr Rafiq was “mind-blowing”.
He told Radio 4’s World at One programme: “You could have replayed every single response that he gave and there would be something which was really mind-blowing, blowing the lid off behaviour in cricket, for every single response.”
Mr Sobel said there was “obfuscation” in responses from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
He said: “I’d encourage every professional cricketer to listen to Azeem’s testimony and think about whether you’ve witnessed anything like that.”
He added: “I say to any professional, former professional cricketer, who’s experienced racism and listening is you also need your testimony to be heard, whether that’s in private to a Member of Parliament, or in public in the media, we need to get your voices out there.”
Mr Rafiq told MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee that racism had cost him his career.
Downing Street described his evidence to the committee as “concerning”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Boris Johnson had been in meetings and had not watched any of the testimony.
But the spokesman added: “The evidence given this morning is concerning. There is no place for racism in sport.
“There is no place for racism anywhere in society.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid described the session as “heart-rending”.
Heart-rending testimony from Azeem Rafiq that will speak to anyone who has experienced racism. This was far more than 'banter'.
Thank you for your bravery – in speaking up so openly about your experience and the way it affected you.
Watch it here: https://t.co/Xd444BWBwr
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) November 16, 2021
He said: “This was far more than ‘banter’.
“Thank you for your bravery – in speaking up so openly about your experience and the way it affected you.”
While Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries added: “Incredibly powerful testimony from Azeem Rafiq today.
“His bravery has shone a light on the abhorrent racist culture at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
“The ECB needs to take strong and decisive action to ensure nobody else has to go through what Azeem went through.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Rafiq’s evidence showed the need to “root out racism in sport”, particularly in cricket.
“I think the response of the club was very poor, without any proper sanctions, and treating racial slurs as banter,” he said.
“Yorkshire have got some very serious questions to answer and we need action now as to how they are going to change the culture in the club and in the sport.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said it was “horrifying”, adding: “This is clearly a disgraceful failure of governance by YCCC and ECB. We need action not mealy-mouthed words.”
Bradford East Labour MP Imran Hussein said the testimony was “sadly just the tip of the iceberg of a much wider problem of racism that poisons so many of our sports”.
Mr Rafiq’s voice cracked and he fought back tears on several occasions while giving evidence during the session which last almost an hour and 40 minutes, at one point pausing for a break when emotion got the better of him.
He said that racial discrimination, and his decision to take a stand against it, had cost him his career in a sport that he feels has ingrained problems.
Asked if he could identify a single individual who had stood up for him or called out acts of racism at the time, he was unable to summon a name, adding: “You had people who were openly racist and you had the bystanders. No one felt it was important.”
More than once, he said his mission was to shine a light on systemic patterns of discrimination and act as “the voice of the voiceless”.