It is 2021, unless you are living under a rock or you despise yourself with a pseudonym, handing out death threats and taunts on the social media platform, you know what ‘racism’ is. However, it is astonishing that even after years of development as homosapiens, racism still blatantly exists.
It doesn’t exist because people are not throwing it down, it exists because there is still a faction that doesn’t acknowledge the fact that racism as a concept exists, in the first place, institutionalized in the psyche and practised with nonchalance.
At one end, there are international teams acknowledging and adding to the cause against racism, there are several others at the club level, who still categorize it as ‘banter’ and sweep it under the carpet.
August 2020: Azeem Rafiq opens up on racism at Yorkshire
When Azeem Rafiq in a conversation with the Cricket Badger Podcast, opened about ‘racism’, it was not just a stand-alone episode in the country but yet another instance of the system not eliminating the root cause. It only echoed what Michael Carberry had to say about racism and how it is blatant in English cricket.
"This slogan 'black lives matter'… they've never mattered. That's why we're still talking about racism. Nothing has changed. It's another day in the life of a black man,” said Carberry on the same podcast just a few days before Rafiq’s conversation.
"Cricket is rife with racism. The issue you have in cricket is, the people running the game don't care about black people in it. Black people are not important to the structure of English cricket,” he added.
Rafiq’s horrible experience not just echoed the prevailing issue but amplified it for the ears to pay attention. But that’s where the issue lies: not paying attention. Racism isn’t a disease that could be cured with a vaccine or with an antidote, but it is a disease that needs systematic cleaning of the system to wipe it out.
“I’ve been in dressing rooms where things have been said, and, really, I should have stopped it. I had a captain who was openly racist. Why didn’t I stop it? It was the environment. I raised my voice about it once and I was made out to be the person… I might have read Carbs [Michael Carberry] talk about a similar thing,” Rafiq opened up in an interview with Wisden in August of 2020.
On the podcast, Rafiq, with tear-filled eyes, expressed that the incident nearly led him into taking his own life but staying strong, he vowed to talk about the incident and stop others from facing similar treatment for their race. With regret, the former Yorkshire player insisted that once he opened up about racism, his life was made hell.
“Ya look, a lot of things Carberry said is bang on. Should I have stopped it? Yes, I should have but a lot of it goes down to when you stop it, you are made to be a bad person. I once spoke against that, and my life was made hell after that. Institutional racism, it is the worst that has ever been. If you look at the number of players, staff, it is my sort of opinion that is happening. I’m talking about high-profile players, people and administrators,” the former all-rounder told Cricket Badger.
“There’s one comment that stands out for me. And I remember it to this day. It was around the time of my debut. There was me, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. We’re walking onto the field and one player said: ‘There’s too many of you lot. We need to have a word about that,” he added in Wisden's interview.
“You can imagine the sort of thing that leaves on you, and you hear these things all day, every day. I’ve been in that system for nearly the best part of two decades. I know how it works. I’d love to see change,” he concluded.
“I will fight on my own, I don’t want anyone else to go through the same thing that I did,” said a strong Rafiq and he didn’t. Speaking out is the first step, the former Yorkshire captain did that exactly, he spoke, and the world was aware.
August 2021: Yorkshire issues an apology finally
In August, a year after Rafiq went out to the media, Yorkshire finally released an apology and accepted that the former skipper’s statements were upheld.
“There were many allegations made against the club, most of which relate to a period more than 10 years ago,” Yorkshire said in a statement. “Many of the allegations were not upheld and for others there was insufficient evidence for the panel to make a determination.
“It is right, however, to acknowledge from the outset that several of the allegations made by Azeem were upheld and that sadly, historically, Azeem was the victim of inappropriate behavior," the statement continued, referring to the investigation's findings.
"This is clearly unacceptable. We would like to express our profound apologies for this.”
October 2021: Yorkshire backtracks on apology; ECB firm on proper finding
However, in a move that stunned the world, Yorkshire backtracked on their apology and claimed that it was a ‘friendly banter’ between teammates when the all-rounder was called as “P**i”. The panel on the case also added that Rafiq should “take such comments in the spirit in which they were intended.” The committee instead levied charges on their former player, stating that he called a player of Zimbabwean heritage as ‘Zimbo’, which the club found derogatory.
ECB, on the other hand, on the back of Yorkshire’s comments, made it clear as daylight that they were conscious of the things that were happening and would surely interrogate with proper findings on the issue.
"The ECB has this afternoon received a copy of the report carried out on behalf of Yorkshire CCC into the allegations made by Azeem Rafiq, together with assurances from the club to cooperate fully with the ongoing regulatory process," read a statement from the board, reported ESPNCricinfo.
"This is a matter with many serious allegations at its heart and the ECB's regulatory team will now consider the Report as part of its investigation.
"We anticipate that it will take time for the regulatory process to reach its conclusion, but it is imperative that this is completed thoroughly and with fairness to all involved."
November 2021: Gary Ballance identified as the player, issues apology for the incident
It wasn’t until November of 2021 when the player was identified by the English dailies as the English cricketer Gary Ballance. After the English daily ‘Daily Mail’ had reported the cricketer to be Ballance, it started a tirade against the English international. Several comments on social media called for his head.
But interestingly, notable journalist George Dobell, on his Twitter account, stated that identifying the player won’t solve the issue but identifying the root cause of the mentality is what will eventually solve the problem. Dobell was right in saying that, Ballance isn’t the problem, he is a result of the problem.
“It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent enquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so,” Ballance said. “To be clear - I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years.”
“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.”
Ballance, in the aftermath of this revelation, was suspended from all selection for the national team. However, that wasn’t the end of the tirade, with former England skipper Michael Vaughan too getting involved, confirming that he was named in the report by Rafiq but denied involvement.
"I have nothing to hide," Vaughan wrote. "The “you lot” comment never happened. Anyone trying to recollect words said 10 years ago will be fallible but I am adamant those words were not used. If Rafiq believes something was said at the time to upset him then that is what he believes. It is difficult to comment on that except to say it hurts me hugely to think I potentially affected someone. I take it as the most serious allegation ever put in front of me and I will fight to the end to prove I am not that person.”
November 2021: Yorkshire banned from hosting international cricket
On Thursday (November 4), England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) confirmed that Yorkshire was suspended from hosting international cricket. The suspension also included a ban on hosting major games, including the final and the Eliminator of The Hundred. In the aftermath of the incident, several major sponsors have withdrawn from being associated with the club.
The county’s kit supplier, Nike, had also ended its partnership with them, Leeds Beckett University paused their relationship and Harrogate Water ended their association. A day prior to this incident, Emerald Group, Yorkshire Tea and Tetley’s, key sponsors to the club also ended their brand relationship with the county.
UK’s health secretary Sajid Javid, too shared a word of warning, stating “‘Paki’ is not banter. Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If [the ECB] doesn’t take action it’s not fit for purpose.”
In the wake of the incidents, Yorkshire’s chairman Roger Hutton resigned and called for the senior club figures to follow him and in his parting statement, he was clear with his words.
"For much of my time at the club, I experienced a culture that refuses to accept change or challenge," Hutton told ESPNCricinfo. "There has been a constant unwillingness from the executive members of the board and senior management at the club to apologise and to accept racism and to look forward.”
"Azeem left the club in August 2018, 18 months before I joined. I have never met Azeem. I know however, that when someone makes claims as serious as his, they need to be investigated and changes need to be made. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise unreservedly to Azeem. The club should have recognised at the time the serious allegations of racism,” he added.
Where lies the answer?
The real question isn’t who did it, why they did it or how they did it, it is more about what has caused them to do it. Racism, as Michael Holding puts it out, will need an institutional change to fight racism.
"Kids at school believe what teachers and elders tell them and if we teach them the wrong things, they will grow up in a society believing in the wrong thing. That is what has happened with racism. The white race has been inculcated with this false narrative that they are superior to black and brown people. Until that narrative is squashed, get people to recognise that we are all just human beings, we will struggle. That has to start in the schools," said Holding on Sports Today.
And rightly, as he yet again points out, it is an issue that shouldn’t die out, it is an issue that should be brought to the fore and could only be done when the ‘good people’ stop being silent about the happenings around them. The key lies in his statement: don’t stay silent and be proactive in exposing people of their wrongdoings.
ECB have just put their first step forward, admitting that there was indeed a case of racism existing within county cricket, specifically at Yorkshire. But in the past, they have done that and stayed silent, the onus for ECB and everyone associated with the interest of English cricket lies in the fact that they need to start being more proactive, to eliminate this issue at its root cause, albeit it being one step at a time.
Mere acknowledgement is the first step, categorical elimination is the second and now ECB are on the third phase, educating the entire country that ‘racism’ is like cancer, a disease that spreads. For that reason, the ECB, on their own footstep, need to start taking proactive measures to wipe the fault in the system. Today it was Rafiq, tomorrow it might be another up and coming cricketer in the third division, it has to stop as the clock goes past every minute hand.
“You need good people to stop being silent. It is no longer good enough to say ‘I am fine, I am not racist’,” Holding pointed.