Yorkshire cricket club chairman resigns over Rafiq racism case

Roger Hutton says senior club figures have shown ‘constant unwillingness’ to accept Rafiq was racially abused.

Azeem Rafiq says he experienced racism during his time at Yorkshire to the extent that his mental health suffered [File: Gareth Copley/Getty Images]

Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton has resigned in the fallout from Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations against the English cricket club.

“Today I announce my resignation as chairman of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, with immediate effect,” Hutton said on Friday.

He apologised “unreservedly” to Rafiq, admitting the club “should have recognised at the time the serious allegations of racism” raised by the former player, who left Yorkshire in 2018 at the end of a second spell.

“There has been a constant unwillingness from the executive members of the board and senior management at the club to apologise, and to accept that there was racism, and to look forward,” Hutton said.

“For much of my time at the club, I experienced a culture that refuses to accept change or challenge,” he added.

Yorkshire said in a statement issued later on Friday that Hanif Malik and Stephen Willis had also stepped down from its board following an emergency meeting and that Lord Kamlesh Patel had been appointed to replace Hutton.

ECB slams ‘abhorrent’ case

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has slammed Yorkshire for its “wholly unacceptable” response to the treatment faced by Rafiq.

On Thursday, the governing body suspended the club from hosting international matches as punishment for its handling of the racism case that has shaken the sport.

A number of Yorkshire’s sponsors have meanwhile deserted the beleaguered club over the case, which the ECB said was “causing serious damage to the reputation of the game”.

“The ECB find this matter abhorrent and against the spirit of cricket and its values,” it said in a statement on Thursday.

Yorkshire’s Headingley Stadium was scheduled to host England’s Test match against New Zealand and a men’s One-Day International against South Africa in 2022, as well as an Ashes Test against Australia in 2023.

But the ECB said the club is “suspended from hosting international or major matches until it has clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected of an international venue”.

The sanction came after Yorkshire said last month that it would not take any disciplinary action against any of its employees, players or executives despite a report that found that Rafiq – one of its former captains – was the victim of racial harassment and bullying.

Rafiq made to feel like an ‘outsider’

Rafiq, a former England under-19 captain, said in interviews last year that as a Muslim he was made to feel like an “outsider” during his time at Yorkshire from 2008 to 2018 and that he was close to taking his own life.

On Wednesday, former England cricketer Gary Ballance admitted using a racial slur against Rafiq when they were teammates at Yorkshire, but said “this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate”.

A formal independent investigation was commissioned by Yorkshire into more than 40 allegations made by Rafiq, with seven of them upheld in a report released last month.

In his resignation letter, Hutton said the ECB had been reluctant to act when approached regarding the investigation, an allegation the ECB swiftly denied.

“I immediately reached out to the ECB to ask for their help and intervention to support a robust inquiry,” Hutton wrote.

“I was saddened when they declined to help as I felt it was a matter of great importance for the game as a whole.”

‘Much work to do’

But ECB Chief Executive Officer Tom Harrison said his organisation could not have joined a Yorkshire inquiry panel as it is itself the regulator.

“We were asked to join the Yorkshire panel, to be part of the investigation, which clearly we cannot do. We are the regulator,” he told reporters.

Harrison said the ECB had taken “unprecedented action” over Yorkshire’s handling of the issue.

“There are going to be a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds and cultures that have looked at what’s been happening over the last few days and feel very uncomfortable about whether they would want their children to be involved in cricket,” Harrison said.

“So we’ve had to step in in the most direct way to defend the values of our sport.”

Incoming chairman Patel said in a statement that Yorkshire needed to “learn from its past errors, regain trust and rebuild relationships with our communities”.

“There is much work to do,” he added.

Rafiq and senior Yorkshire executives have been called to give evidence before a parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) panel on November 16.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies