Yorkshire cricket racism: Ex-England cricketer Gary Ballance admits using racial slur against teammate Azeem Rafiq

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Former England cricketer Gary Ballance has admitted using a racial slur against ex-Yorkshire teammate Azeem Rafiq.

In a statement the batsman, who played 23 Test matches for England, said he regretted using the word.

He said: "I am aware of how hurtful the racial slur is and I regret that I used this word in immature exchanges in my younger years and I am sure Rafa feels the same about some of the things he said to me as well."

Rafiq, 30, played for Yorkshire County Cricket Club in two spells between 2008 and 2018 and accused the club of "institutional racism" more than a year ago.

His allegations against the club have begun to gather momentum in recent days with several sponsors announcing they are cutting ties with the club and senior politicians calling for action.

It follows revelations by ESPNCricinfo over the contents of an independent report into the matter.

That report found that Rafiq had been the victim of "racial harassment and bullying" at the club, but it has since emerged that the panel determined repeated use of the word "P***" against the spinner was delivered "in the spirit of friendly banter".

It led to an apology being issued to Rafiq but nobody being disciplined.

Watch: Cricketer Azeem Rafiq - Yorkshire to take no action against any employees after racism claims by former player

Ballance said Rafiq was his "closest friend and supporter in cricket" and that he has been "completely honest and transparent" throughout the investigation.

He added: "To be clear - I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years.

"The independent enquiry, having heard all of the evidence, accepted that the context of some of the language used was in a 'friendly verbal attack' between friends which was not intended to offend or hurt and that no malice was intended."

The statement continued: "I regret that these exchanges took place but at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress.

"If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately. He was my best mate in cricket and I cared deeply for him.

"That does not mean that what passed between us was right or appropriate. It was not. Rafa said things to me that were not acceptable and I did the same with Rafa."

On Tuesday, Yorkshire's chairman Roger Hutton was summoned to appear before a parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee to answer questions over the club's handling of the allegations.

Rafiq himself has also been invited to the hearing, which is thought to be happening on 16 November.

It comes amid increasing political pressure on the club with leading politicians - including former Labour leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves - writing to the England and Wales Cricket Board to demand action and Health Secretary Sajid Javid saying "heads should roll".

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is also assessing Yorkshire's handling of the claims and if it decides to punish the club, sanctions could include temporarily stripping Headingley of its status as a Test match venue.

Watch: Azeem Rafiq - Ex-Yorkshire cricketer says racism at club left him 'close to suicide'

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