The emergence of photographs of former England batsman Alex Hales wearing black face paint has become the latest in a string of allegations of racism to have hit English cricket.
The pictures, published by Britain’s The Sun newspaper late on Thursday, follow revelations by former player Azeem Rafiq of the career-ending racism he suffered that have sent shockwaves through the English game.
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Earlier this week, Rafiq had told a parliamentary committee that Hales named his black dog “Kevin” due to cricketer Gary Ballance’s use of the name as a derogatory term for people of colour, an accusation that prompted a “categorical” denial from Hales.
In a statement to The Sun, Hales said the pictures portrayed him attending a New Year’s Eve party dressed in tribute to his musical hero, Tupac Shakur, a rapper better known by his stage name 2Pac.
He is “someone who I’ve admired from childhood,” Hales said, adding that “at the time, [I] did not realise the offensive nature of this”.
The 32-year-old batsman, who is facing a fresh investigation after being suspended for a second positive drugs test in 2019, stressed that he deplores “racism and discrimination in all its forms”.
Julian Knight, the MP who chaired Tuesday’s committee hearing, reacted to the images saying they were “incredibly disturbing and offensive” and warned “the very soul of English cricket is now at stake”.
Rafiq was widely praised for speaking out at a British parliamentary inquiry about the racism he suffered. He had previously said the abuse had led him to contemplate taking his own life.
The former cricketer of Pakistani descent, however, had to issue his own apology after The Times newspaper uncovered messages he sent to former Warwickshire and Leicestershire player Ateeq Javid, in which he is seen to make disparaging comments about an unnamed Jewish person.
“I have absolutely no excuses,” Rafiq said in a Tweet. “I am ashamed of this exchange and have now deleted it so as not to cause further offence.”
The 30-year-old added he was 19 at the time and was now a different person.
“I am incredibly angry at myself and I apologise to the Jewish community and everyone who is rightly offended by this,” he said.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews President Marie van der Zyl responded by saying that Rafiq had “suffered terribly at the hands of racists in cricket so he will well understand the hurt this exchange will cause to Jews who have supported him”.
“His apology certainly seems heartfelt and we have no reason to believe he is not completely sincere,” the board president said.
Rafiq’s testimony has led to the resignation of Yorkshire’s chairman and chief executive, while head coach Andrew Gale has been suspended pending investigations over a past anti-Semitic tweet.
The British government threatened them with the “nuclear option” of independent regulation on Thursday.
England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) Chief Executive Tom Harrison, who also testified to Knight’s committee on Tuesday, insisted his organisation was “fit for purpose” as the promoter and regulator of the game.