Government to ‘step in’ with ‘real action’ if Yorkshire and ECB fall short in racism response

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Yorkshire’s response to Azeem Rafiq’s allegations has been condemned  (PA Wire)
Yorkshire’s response to Azeem Rafiq’s allegations has been condemned (PA Wire)

The government has vowed to “step in” with “real action” if Yorkshire and the England and Wales Cricket Board falls short in its response to the racism crisis at the county.

An urgent question on the matter was brought to parliament by Stockport MP Nav Mishra, with culture minister Chris Philp telling the House of Commons racism must be “confronted” and “eradicated” in the sport before calling for further resignations at Headingley.

Roger Hutton stepped down as chairman last week citing frustrations over the handling of Azeem Rafiq’s claims of institutional racism, but Philp suggested that was not enough by telling MPs: “If there is anybody left from that regime, they should resign as well.”

Rafiq has personally called for chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon, both executive board members, to go but both men currently remain in post alongside Lord Kamlesh Patel, who is now leading the Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s (YCCC) response as Hutton’s successor.

Philp said the situation faced by former player Rafiq was “unacceptable”, should “never have been allowed to happen” and should have been “dealt with properly” during the initial investigation. The case must be a “watershed moment for cricket”, the minister added.

There was more backlash for YCCC yesterday as head coach Andrew Gale has been suspended as part of an investigation into a tweet he sent in 2010.

The Jewish News reported Gale, then club captain and head coach since 2016, sent a now-deleted tweet containing an anti-Semitic slur to former Leeds United head of media Paul Dews. The club said in a statement Gale, 37, is “currently suspended pending a disciplinary hearing” and “will make a further statement once this process has been completed”.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Philp said: “We have been clear with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) that this needs a full, transparent investigation both into the incidents involving Azeem Rafiq but also into the wider cultural issues and Yorkshire County Cricket Club.”

The minister acknowledged the ECB is “investigating this fully” and had started to act, including by suspending Yorkshire’s right to host international matches.

Philp went on: “We know this will not undo the pain Azeem feels. More action is now needed and we have called on Lord Patel and the ECB to fully investigate to eradicate racism where it exists and tackle the culture that can support it.

“The government applauds Azeem Rafiq’s courage in speaking out and encourages anybody else similarly affected to do the same. This must be a watershed moment for cricket.

“The government will now closely scrutinise the actions of the ECB... and we’re going to scrutinise the actions that YCCC takes in response to these damning allegations.

“The investigations I’ve referred to need to be thorough, they need to be transparent and they need to be public - that is necessary to restore the public’s belief in cricket and beyond.

“Parliament is watching, the government is watching and the country is watching.

“We expect real action and the government stands ready to step in and take action if they do not put their own house in order. There were catastrophic failings of governance over many years at YCCC , that is why it’s right the chairman resigned and I think if there is anybody left from that regime they should resign as well.”

Philp also welcomed the ECB’s decision to suspend Gary Ballance, who last played for England in 2017, from international selection after he admitted using “a racial slur” against Rafiq during their time together at Yorkshire.

Further allegations have been levelled at the former club captain, with The Daily Telegraph claiming he used the term “Kevin” as a pejorative phrase to describe people of colour. His representatives have been contacted for comment.

“A mere slap on the wrist or an admonishment is clearly not enough,” Philp said. “I hope that both county cricket clubs, the ECB, cricket clubs more generally, sporting clubs more generally as well, take exactly that kind of action whenever they find examples of this kind of unacceptable behaviour, and let us say as a House today that is what we expect them to do.”

Having secured the urgent question, Mishra added: “Sport should be for everyone. No-one should be excluded or belittled because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or disability. I hope today is a landmark to start addressing these serious issues.”

English cricket’s discrimination inquiry has also asked to see a copy of Yorkshire’s investigation into allegations of racism and bullying made by Rafiq. The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) was set up by the ECB in March and yesterday opened its call for evidence, which is open to everyone involved in the elite and grassroots game.

The chair of the ICEC, Cindy Butts, says she wants to “put a mirror up” to the game and confront barriers around race, gender and class – and confirmed she has written to the ECB asking for a copy of Yorkshire’s much-criticised Rafiq report. “I am yet to hear back from (the ECB), but I hope I will hear from them imminently because the issues that are raised within the report are vital for the work that we are doing as a commission,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Lord Patel said he would send copies of the report to those with a “legal interest” in the case, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee Julian Knight.

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