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The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has suspended Yorkshire County Cricket Club from hosting England international fixtures and major matches, and has threatened the club with further punishment after finding their handling of Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of racism “wholly unacceptable”.
In a statement released on Thursday evening, the ECB chastised Yorkshire for causing “serious damage to the reputation of the game” and will take matters into their own hands given how poorly they have dealt with serious accusations of institutional racism. Despite commissioning an independent report that upheld seven of Rafiq’s 43 claims of bullying and racial harassment, last week the club determined no action was deemed necessary. The ECB deemed this failure to act “a significant breach of its obligations to the game”.
The suspension on hosting means Headingley could be without a Test match against New Zealand and one-day international against South Africa in 2022, followed by an Ashes Test in 2023. It also relates to domestic fixtures allocated through the Host Venue Panel, such as The Hundred eliminator and final. Their only reprisal will be if they can convince the ECB they meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and first-class county. Financial sanctions may also be in the offing.
The ECB board will also commission its own review into whether Yorkshire’s governance is fit for purpose, and has suspended Gary Ballance from England selection indefinitely. Ballance, whose last cap came in 2017, admitted regular use of a racial slur against Rafiq. The 31-year-old may be in line for further punishment as the ECB looks into his conduct.
The upholding and severity of these sanctions are only likely to be fully determined when the ECB completes its own regulatory process into the allegations brought by Rafiq. The governing body received Yorkshire’s report last week, two months after it was first requested, and is understood to be sceptical of the manner in which it was put together along with the veracity of the investigation. As such, its own independent tribunal – the Cricket Disciplinary Committee – will not lean too much on the report, which has still not been made public.
The statement read: “It is clear to the board that YCCC’s handling of the issues raised by Azeem Rafiq is wholly unacceptable and is causing serious damage to the reputation of the game. The ECB find this matter abhorrent and against the spirit of cricket and its values.
“There is no place for racism or any form of discrimination in cricket and where it is found, swift action must be taken. This matter must be dealt with robustly if the sport is to demonstrate its commitment to truly being a game for everyone.”
The statement continued: “The ECB will therefore hold YCCC to account in relation to their handling of the matter. Given recent events, it is clear there are serious questions regarding the governance and management of YCCC. The club’s failure in relation to actions and responses to their own report represent a significant breach of its obligations to the game.
“As a governing body with duties to act for all in cricket, the ECB board reaffirmed its commitment to taking decisions in the best interests of the whole game. It also agreed that sanctions including, but not limited to, financial and future major match allocations may be considered at the conclusion of our investigations.
“In the meantime, YCCC are suspended from hosting international or major matches until it has clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and first-class county.
“The ECB board has asked the ECB executive to commission a review of Yorkshire CCC’s governance to consider whether the existing arrangements are fit for purpose.
“That the regulatory processes already under way into the allegations brought by Azeem Rafiq will ultimately be determined by an independent tribunal (the Cricket Disciplinary Committee).
“Before any regulatory investigation is complete, the board wishes to take immediate action in relation to Gary Ballance. While Mr Ballance has not been selected to play for England since 2017, he will be suspended indefinitely from selection. This position will be reviewed following the ECB regulatory investigation into his conduct.
“The board reiterated its unwavering commitment to ensuring that cricket is a game for everyone. Discrimination of any kind on the field of play, in the dressing room, in the stands, or in the boardroom is intolerable in sport or indeed, society. Cricket must work together to eradicate it.”
The firmness of this statement is in keeping with the wider anger directed at Yorkshire’s approach to Rafiq’s claims. It began on Monday when ESPNcricinfo revealed regular use of the term “P***” to Rafiq by a current player. That was revealed to be Ballance, who released a statement on Wednesday stating his regret at using the word. The report had originally concluded it was used as part of “friendly and good-natured banter” while also pulling up Rafiq on his use of the term “Zimbo” (Ballance was born in Zimbabwe). The panel regarded this term as “racist” and “derogatory”, even advising that if Rafiq were still a Yorkshire player, he should be sanctioned for using it.
Members of parliament waded in to condemn Yorkshire, including Julian Knight, who called on the board to resign as snippets of the report became public. Knight is also chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee that has summoned Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton, chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon to give evidence. Rafiq will also have the opportunity to expand on his allegations. The committee is covered by parliamentary privilege, meaning undisclosed names could be made public.
Thursday saw Nike become the latest brand to break off their relationship with Yorkshire, following the likes of long-term partners Yorkshire Tea, Harrogate Spa Water and Emerald Group – the title sponsor at Headingley Stadium – to cut ties with the club. The financial losses, reputational damage and now the ECB sanctions will be discussed on Friday at an unscheduled board meeting called by the club to address the ongoing fallout.