Yorkshire racism scandal must ‘never happen again’ in cricket, Joe Root insists

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Joe Root has addressed the Yorkshire racism scandal  (PA Archive)
Joe Root has addressed the Yorkshire racism scandal (PA Archive)

Joe Root says he cannot recall hearing or witnessing racism at Yorkshire but has called for the club and cricket as a sport to move forward to ensure the alleged racial harassment of Azeem Rafiq and others “never happens again”.

The England men’s Test captain released a statement just before 10am on Thursday condemning the revelations of institutional racism at the county, calling them “simply intolerable” and saying the events have “fractured our game and torn lives apart”. In the statement, which Root begins by stating he felt compelled to address the ongoing situation, he called for “change and actions that will see YCCC rise from this with a culture that harnesses a diverse environment with trust across all communities that support cricket in the county”.

Addressing the media over Zoom while out in Queensland, preparing for the upcoming Ashes series, Root said, from his personal experience, he did not recognise Yorkshire as having a racist culture, nor can he remember witnessing such incidents. However, he has no doubt the claims – many of which have been verified – have merit and should lead to change, not just at Yorkshire but throughout English cricket.

“Not that I can recall, no I can’t,” he answered when asked if he had been privy to the abuse current and former colleagues have spoken of. “But it is clear things have happened at the club and we have to make sure we eradicate it. We look to find ways to make sure this never happens again in the sport and, as I said before, beyond that as well in society.

“The thing that’s really disappointing is that this has happened, and we have to find a way to move forward. We have to look at finding a way to educate as much as we can and make sure these are hard learnings that we can eradicate from the sport, and make sure that moving forward as a county we really can make a difference in this area.”

However, Rafiq is understood to be dismayed by Root’s words. Two hours after the scheduled press conference, he tweeted: “Disappointed is not even the feeling; Incredibly Hurt; But uncomfortable truths are hard to accept it seems”.

The pair came up through the academy together, making their first XI debuts in 2012. Root has spoken previously of feeling sorry for Rafiq. “Azeem is an ex-teammate and a friend,” he said back in August. “It is difficult to see him hurting as he is.”

Root’s addressing of the scandal has come in the wake of huge pressure from outside cricket following leaks from the commissioned report. Among the outrage at the allegations and evidence has been fierce criticism of Yorkshire’s: from how they first dealt with the matter when Rafiq approached them with his grievances in 2018, the slow pace of the investigation to the conclusion that no one at the club would face any sanctions.

At the time of writing, Yorkshire chair Roger Hutton has stepped down, and on Thursday chief executive Mark Arthur resigned from his post. It is understood director of cricket Martyn Moxon and coach Andrew Gale could leave their positions. Lord Kamlesh Patel of Bradford has taken over as chair with what he termed “a clear remit of righting the wrongs of the past”. His first act was to settle the employment tribunal with Rafiq without the former England under-19 captain being forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Root will reach out to Lord Patel to offer support wherever possible, and dismissed the idea that he would leave the club.

“It’s obviously deeply hurtful that it’s happened at a club that I’m so close to. It means so much for me to go and play for Yorkshire. In terms of my position – if you’re not at the club how can you make any change? How can you help move things forward?

“As I said, I look forward to speaking to Lord Patel at some point in the future about how I can help move things forward. That’s my position on things and we’ll see how that happens in the future.”

The Yorkshire case will be discussed at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing next week (PA Wire)
The Yorkshire case will be discussed at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing next week (PA Wire)

Due to the investigation being ongoing and the legal implications, Root was prohibited from fielding questions about the individuals involved in his Zoom call, which was also attended by his agent, Neil Fairbrother.

He also has a close association with those implicated in the report commission by Yorkshire. Gary Ballance, who called Rafiq a “P***” and has also been accused of using the term “Kevin” – the name of another player’s dog – to describe people of colour, were flatmates as well as being county and England teammates. Michael Vaughan, also accused of telling Asian players there were “too many of you lot”, a claim made by Rafiq and backed-up by former Yorkshire overseas player Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, has been a long-term mentor of Root.

On Tuesday, culture minister Chris Philp said the government was ready to “step in” if real action was not taken to put Yorkshire’s house in order, whether from the county themselves or the England and Wales Cricket Board. He also called on those still remaining from the regime who oversaw the last three years to resign as well. That may well include those implicated or complicit with the scandal below board level. “A mere slap on the wrist or an admonishment is clearly not enough," said Philp.

“From my point of view, we all make mistakes and racism is something we completely have to eradicate,” said Root. “But I do think people deserve a second chance, and if they are willing to accept that they’ve made a mistake and they want to make change and want to move forward, then I think that’s really important as well.

“We are all human beings and I think that’s something that we have to remember within this. Of course, people have been deeply hurt throughout this whole thing but ultimately we have to find a way to move forward.”

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