Yorkshire barred from hosting international matches over Rafiq racism claims

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Headingley has lost the right to host international matches as a result of Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
Headingley has lost the right to host international matches as a result of Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

Yorkshire have been suspended from hosting international matches as the England and Wales Cricket Board delivered a stinging rebuke of the club’s “wholly unacceptable” handling of Azeem Rafiq’s racism claims.

A panel convened by Yorkshire upheld several allegations and while the club accepted Rafiq was subjected to “racial harassment and bullying”, they elected to take no punitive action against current employees, players or executives.

The situation has escalated this week as it emerged the panel determined repeated use of the word “P***” against former off-spinner Rafiq, who represented Yorkshire in two stints between 2008 and 2018, was “friendly banter”.

On the day more sponsors deserted the beleaguered club, the ECB board convened to discuss what has fast become a crisis, admitting in a statement the “abhorrent” matter is “causing serious damage to the reputation of the game”.

The county – due to stage a Test against New Zealand and a one-day international versus South Africa next summer, as well as an Ashes encounter in 2023 – have therefore been stripped of hosting England matches until they can “meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and first-class county”.

The suspension also takes in major matches, including The Hundred at Headingley where Northern Superchargers this year played their home fixtures, while Gary Ballance has been “suspended indefinitely” from England selection.

Ballance, who has not featured for England since making the last of his 23 Test appearances four years ago, admitted on Wednesday to using a “racial slur” against his former team-mate although he insisted his language needed to be understood in the context of an “incredibly close” friendship he had with Rafiq.

Rafiq said on Twitter: “I note the statement from the ECB. I need a little time to reflect on what the ECB has said this evening and the actions they’re proposing to take. I will not be commenting further at this time.”

Yorkshire, who are reported to have called an emergency board meeting for Friday to discuss the fall-out, could face heavy losses following the ECB sanctions.

The club’s 2019 accounts showed it had earned just under £10.5million from international ticket and hospitality revenue, compared to just over £3m from commercial income which would include sponsorship.

The ECB last week received the panel’s full report, having first requested a copy in mid-August, and promised a full regulatory process which will be determined by the Cricket Disciplinary Committee, an independent tribunal.

Gary Ballance, pictured here playing for England in 2015, will not be considered for selection (John Walton/PA) (PA Wire)
Gary Ballance, pictured here playing for England in 2015, will not be considered for selection (John Walton/PA) (PA Wire)

But events in recent days have hastened the ECB to act now while it awaits for the investigation to be completed.

The ECB’s statement read: “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.

“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.

“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.”

Health secretary Sajid Javid, who in 2014 became the first British Pakistani to head a government department, said “heads should roll” at Yorkshire, adding if the ECB did not step in then “it’s not fit for purpose”.

That followed the news Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton will be called to face the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, while Rafiq is also set to appear before an evidence session, which could unearth his most damning account yet because of parliamentary privilege.

DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight MP said on Thursday: “The ECB’s action in taking international cricket away from Yorkshire should act as a short, sharp shock to bring the club to its senses. Like the rest of us, I imagine the members of Yorkshire County Cricket Club will be questioning why the board is still in place.

“As for Mr Ballance, I’m choosing at this time not to comment on the specifics of the case. However, it would have been completely unacceptable if they had left him eligible for selection for the England cricket team.”

Harrogate Spring Water and Nike are the latest brands to sever ties with Yorkshire in the wake of the Rafiq row, hot on the heels of Yorkshire Tea doing so and Emerald Publishing Group withdrawing as the title sponsor of Headingley.

Rafiq revealed he is still receiving abuse for speaking out about the racism and bullying he suffered over two spells at Yorkshire (PA) (PA Wire)
Rafiq revealed he is still receiving abuse for speaking out about the racism and bullying he suffered over two spells at Yorkshire (PA) (PA Wire)

Leeds Beckett University said it was “pausing all currently planned activity” with Yorkshire with immediate effect, saying the club’s “public statements to date suggest that its approach to the handling of these accusations is inconsistent with our values and culture”.

A university spokesperson added in a statement sent to the PA news agency: “There is no current financial sponsorship arrangement between the university and the club and the university logo has been removed from the club website at our request.

“Our future relationship with YCCC will depend on what emerges from the ECB review and the evidence of meaningful change that the club commits to, to end racism. If it can do this, as we are seeking to do ourselves, then we would hope we can work together on a partnership that plays a positive role in our community in the future.”

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