Azeem Rafiq has settled his employment tribunal case with Yorkshire amid praise and an apology from Kamlesh Patel, the new chair of the club, for lifting the lid on the racism he encountered while a player at Headingley.
Speaking on Monday afternoon, three days after taking the chair at Yorkshire, Lord Patel disclosed he had spent nearly seven hours over the weekend in talks with Rafiq, who has received a six-figure payout. After what he described as “the important first steps” towards rebuilding the crisis-torn club, the 61-year-old pledged to drive “urgent and seismic change” at the club to ensure a repeat never occurs.
Patel said: “I thank Azeem for his bravery in speaking out. Let me be clear from the outset: racism or discrimination in any form is not banter. Azeem is a whistleblower and should be praised as such. He should never have been put through this.
“We’re sorry for what you and your family have experienced and the way in which we’ve handled this. What happened to you must never happen again.”
Of their conversations, he said: “It was difficult and it was actually quite sad. It was tough for me, it was incredibly tough for him,” he said. “You did feel: ‘Why would we do this to any human being?’”
Along with the settlement and an invitation for Rafiq to be involved in the rebuilding process Patel announced an independent review into the club’s reporting processes after admitting the 12-month investigation was “flawed”. A hotline is also being set up for players or employees, past or present, to share similar experiences.
Patel, the former England and Wales Cricket Board deputy chair, wants a period of “truth and reconciliation” while he simultaneously tackles the looming financial crisis at Yorkshire. Sponsors have fled and next year’s England men’s fixtures – worth more than £3.5m in revenues – could move elsewhere unless the club can prove it has reformed.
Rafiq will receive compensation as part of his settlement with Yorkshire – another dent to the coffers of a county with more than £18m of debt – but, crucially, the 30-year-old has not signed a non-disclosure agreement and can speak freely on the subject. Patel apologised for this stipulation being part of the club’s previous negotiations.
In a statement Rafiq thanked Patel for a “good start”, reiterated his intention to give evidence to parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport select committee next week and urged Mark Arthur, the chief executive, and Martyn Moxon, the director of cricket, to resign.
Rafiq says he reported dressing room issues to the pair and Hanif Malik, the club’s former diversity chair, in 2018, with the summary of the report published in September concluding the club failed to properly escalate this in line with its policies.
“Mark Arthur, Martyn Moxon and many of those in the coaching staff have been part of the problem,” Rafiq said. “They have consistently failed to take responsibility for what happened on their watch and must go. I urge them to do the right thing and resign to make way for those who will do what is needed for the club’s future.”
Patel said he had not yet had time to go through fully Yorkshire’s 100-plus page report into Rafiq’s allegations but added: “What I’ve seen so far does feel uncomfortable. It makes me feel the process wasn’t as well completed as it should have been.”
On the subject of Arthur and Moxon, who have not spoken publicly on the subject since Rafiq did so with his allegations in 2020, Patel said he would listen to their side of events before making any decisions over their futures, albeit with the caveat that “leadership is important in any of these circumstances”.
It remains to be seen whether the controversial report into Rafiq’s allegations will ever be made public, with Patel confirming it will initially go only to those with a “legal interest”, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Julian Knight MP, chair of the DCMS committee.
The scandal has had many strands, including a recent admission from the batsman Gary Ballance that he had used racist language towards Rafiq during their time as teammates, something qualified as being a feature of their “friendly” two-way verbals.
Patel, who said he will speak to all current players, including those away on England duty, insisted anyone using the P-word in any context would be shown the door. He added, however, that individuals can change, citing the historical tweet storm that engulfed England’s Ollie Robinson during the summer as a template for such incidents.
Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, has also denied telling four players of Asian heritage – Rafiq, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan – that there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” in 2009. Rana, the former Pakistan fast bowler, has since confirmed he, too, heard this at the time.
Vaughan, who was stood down from appearing on BBC Radio 5 live on Monday night, had previously declined to speak to the investigation team over the past year but the message from Patel to the former Yorkshire player was to engage with the club now. “I will make sure it is done in a fair and appropriate manner,” Patel said.
Patel spoke for nearly an hour at Headingley and included his own experiences of racism growing up in Bradford after his family emigrated from Kenya in the 1960s. He described himself as learning to become a fast runner, with every other weekend seeing “skinheads engage in Paki-bashing”. Cricket, he explained, saved him.
These experiences, and a pioneering career in social work that saw him awarded an OBE in 1999, have informed Patel’s approach after being parachuted into the current crisis; so, too, his time on the ECB board during which he helped author the governing body’s South Asian Engagement plan.
“Inclusiveness runs through my blood,” Patel added. “Yorkshire is my home and I want to make the club a place for all people of all backgrounds. I want to find the next Joe Root, the next Virat Kohli, the next Babar Azam. This is their home, the door is wide open, come and live your dreams here.
“I’m determined to make this club the beating heart of English cricket again. After 158 years we’re ready to change. … We’re ready to accept the past and we’re ready to become a club which people can trust to do the right thing.”
On Monday Irfan Amjad, a 28-year-old former Yorkshire academy player, told the BBC he had been racially abused as a 16-year-old by a member of club staff. The club said: “We were unaware of this allegation until now but will investigate appropriately.”
In Dubai where he is competing in the T20 World Cup, Moeen Ali was asked what impact the publicity surrounding Yorkshire will have on the sport. “I don’t think it’ll impact it too much,” he said. “If anything it’s given a lot more people a voice – people that probably didn’t feel like they could speak previously.
“What Azeem has done he is not doing it for any personal gain. I think he wants change and that’s what he’s pushing for . Going forward it might have an impact initially but I think going beyond that it will be great. Sometimes you need to have a bit of a dip to really come out and that’s from Yorkshire’s point of view as well. As a whole cricket community, culture, there are going to be big changes.”