Azeem Rafiq has today apologised for sending anti-Semitic messages to a fellow cricketer on Facebook a decade ago
Azeem Rafiq has today apologised for sending anti-Semitic messages to a fellow cricketer on Facebook a decade ago.
The former Yorkshire spin bowler, now 30, rocked the world of sport with wide-ranging allegations of racism in cricket at an explosive evidence session before MPs on Tuesday.
He pointed the finger at a number of high-profile individuals in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee this week, but has now been forced to confront his own past shortcomings after The Times uncovered an exchange with former Warwickshire and Leicestershire player Ateeq Javid.
The exchange shows Rafiq making offensive remarks about an unidentified Jewish person in 2011. He and Javid appeared to joke about another Asian cricketer not paying a dinner bill.
Rafiq wrote: ‘Hahaha he is a Jew. Probs go after my 2nds again.’ He later added: ‘How wrong is that? Only Jews do that sort of s***.’
In a statement on Twitter this afternoon, Rafiq confirmed the messages are authentic and apologised for his past remarks, saying he is a ‘different person today’.
He wrote: ‘I was sent an image of this exchange from early 2011 today. I have gone back to check my account and it is me. I have absolutely no excuses. I am ashamed of this exchange and have now deleted it so as not to cause further offence.
‘I was 19 at the time and I hope and believe I am a different person today. I am incredibly angry at myself and I apologise to the Jewish community and everyone who is rightly offended by this.’
The revelation comes after MPs today warned the England and Wales Cricket Board to get its house in order over ‘institutional racism’ in the sport following Rafiq’s appearance.
In shocking testimony that stunned the cricketing world, Rafiq broke down in tears as he made racial discrimination claims against Tim Bresnan, Matthew Hoggard, Alex Hales, Gary Ballance and David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd.
The spin bowler turned whistleblower also claimed the word P*** was ‘used constantly’ during his time at Yorkshire CCC as he gave explosive testimony to MPs.
In one shocking claim, he gave a harrowing account of having red wine forced down his throat by older players at his local team when he was 15 and a devout Muslim – before he drank more heavily from 2012 ‘to try to fit in’.
Rafiq claimed when he first joined Yorkshire he and other Asian players were told they had to ‘sit near the toilets’ and were called ‘elephant washers’. The athlete also launched another broadside at former teammate Ballance, saying it was an open secret in the England dressing room he was racist.
Meanwhile, Rafiq claimed fellow international star Alex Hales named his black Dobermann ‘Kevin’ after his friend Ballance used it to refer to black people. And he hit out at current England Test captain Joe Root, claiming the batsman was on the nights out when he was called a ‘P***’.
During the wide-ranging hearing, Rafiq blinked back tears as he opened up about the ‘inhumane’ treatment he received from coaches after his wife had a miscarriage in 2017.
His emotional testimony had to be brought to an abrupt halt by DCMS chair Julian Knight and adjourned for five minutes so the cricketer could recompose himself.
Left: The Times uncovered an exchange with former Warwickshire and Leicestershire player Ateeq Javid. In it, Rafiq makes offensive remarks about an unidentified Jewish person in 2011. He and Javid appeared to joke about another Asian cricketer not paying a dinner bill. Right: In a statement this afternoon, Rafiq confirmed the messages are authentic and apologised for his past remarks, saying he is a ‘different person today’
Cricketer Azeem Rafiq (pictured) fought back tears as MPs heard bombshell allegations of institutional racism at the heart of the English game
Rafiq of Yorkshire bowls during the NatWest T20 Blast Semi Final against Durham at Edgbaston in 2016
Which England stars has Azeem Rafiq dragged into explosive cricket row and what has he claimed?
Rafiq said he started medication due to his deteriorating mental health and left Yorkshire for the first time in 2014. When he returned he initially felt settled under captain Alex Lees and coach Jason Gillespie.
‘Jason left in 2016 and it just felt the temperature in the room had been turned up,’ Rafiq said. ‘You had Andrew Gale coming in as coach and Gary Ballance as captain. For the first time I started to see for what it was – I felt isolated, humiliated at times. Constant use of the word ‘P***’.’
Rafiq said on a 2017 pre-season tour Ballance had racially abused him. ‘We were in a place and Gary Ballance walks over and goes, ‘Why are you talking to him? You know he’s a P***’. This happened in front of team-mates. It happened in front of coaching staff.’
He added: ‘He would constantly talk down to me and make racist jokes, designed to undermine me and make me feel small, like coming up and interrupting when I was talking to girls in a club, saying ‘don’t talk to him, he’s a P***’. I remember crying outside a nightclub after his constant racist taunting.
‘On those bus trips, he would look out for corner shops and make comments like ‘does your dad own these?’ Gary would often make comments like this on YCCC [Yorkshire County Cricket Club] bus trips, in the dressing room, or at events — and in front of YCCC coaches, staff and management, including our coach, Andrew Gale, [the coach] Richard Pyrah, director of cricket Martyn Moxon, and club president Dickie Bird. But nothing was said or done to stop it. Instead, they often laughed along.’
Ballance admitted using a ‘racial slur’ towards Rafiq in a lengthy statement this month, apologising but framing it as part of their friendship. Rafiq told the committee that was not an accurate depiction of their relationship, saying it went downhill from 2013 onwards and had become toxic by 2017.
Rafiq also alleged former England batter Alex Hales was involved, saying: ‘Gary and Alex Hales got really close to each other when they played for England together. I wasn’t present in that dressing room, but what I understand (is) that Alex went on to name his dog ‘Kevin’ because it was black. It’s disgusting how much of a joke it was.’
Asked about Vaughan, Rafiq said: ‘Michael might not remember it… three of us, Adil, myself and Rana remember it.
‘He clearly had a snippet of my statement. He used his platform at the Daily Telegraph to tell everyone he hadn’t said these things. To go on and put a snippet of my statement out and talk about other things, I thought was completely wrong. He probably doesn’t remember it because it doesn’t mean anything to him.’
Rafiq make claims over the former England player’s behaviour at the club, saying he was among ‘six or seven’ players to have made a bullying complaint against the star in 2017. But he added that he was the only one of those players who was of colour.
He said: ‘Tim is Andrew’s [Gale’s] brother-in-law. They always supported each other. Tim would tag along and join in with Andrew’s racist comments and they bounced off each other in terms of the bullying. As with Andrew, Tim frequently made racist comments and was unduly harsh towards me compared to white British players, which became so unbearable that I made a formal complaint against him in 2017.’
Rafiq said: ‘It was Hoggy who started calling me ‘Raffa the Kaffir’. It was only later I realised what ‘Kaffir’ meant, how it was used, and that it was a racist term. Comments from Hoggy towards myself and the other Asian players — Adil, Ajmal and Rana — were constant.
‘He might have thought it was just dressing room banter, but we would come in in the morning and he would say things like ‘you lot sit over there’ and make us all sit together. He would also call us things like ‘elephant washers’ and ‘P***’. Rafiq said Matthew Hoggard apologised to him after watching him being interviewed about his experience at Yorkshire.
He said: ‘I took a phone call from Matthew and he just said, ‘Look, I didn’t realise, I’m really sorry. If some of the comments I made made you feel the way you’ve described it, I just want to apologise’. You know what, when someone does that, I was like, ‘Thank you, I really appreciate it’.’
Rafiq said he found it ‘hurtful’ England captain Root said he had never witnessed anything of a racist nature at Yorkshire. ‘Rooty is a good man. He never engaged in racist language,’ Rafiq said.
‘I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary (Ballance)’s housemate and had been involved in a lot of the socialising where I was called a ‘P***’. It shows how normal it was that even a good man like him doesn’t see it for what it was. It’s not going to affect Joe, but it’s something I remember every day.’
Rafiq claimed: ‘There were denial, briefings, cover-ups, smearing, high-profile media people messaging other members of the media who supported me saying stuff like ‘the clubhouse is the lifeblood of a club and Asian players don’t go in there’, and ‘getting subs out of Asian players is like getting blood out of a stone’.
‘And then personally, this guy doesn’t even know me, has never spent any time with me, talking about my personal drinking, going out and socialising. That was David Lloyd, he’s been an England coach, commentator and I found it disturbing. Within a week of me speaking out that’s what I got sent to me, and I thought, ‘God, there’s some closet racists and we need to do something about it’.’
Rafiq claimed Jack Brooks, a two-time County Championship winner at Yorkshire, had started the disrespectful practice of calling India star Cheteshwar Pujara ‘Steve’ during an overseas stint at the club.
The spin bowler turned whistleblower also warned that ‘hundreds and thousands’ of cricketers could now come forward with their own racism claims following his emotional testimony – claiming there will be an opening of the ‘floodgates’ where victims of alleged abuse fight back.
In a devastating 90-minute testimony to a Commons committee, Rafiq recalled his ‘inhuman’ treatment at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and accused senior players of racist bullying.
The 30-year-old former bowler said the word ‘P***’ was ‘used constantly’ in his time on the Yorkshire first team – and that racism continues to be rife in county teams across the country.
At one point the hearing had to be halted as Rafiq broke down in tears describing his treatment after he lost his unborn child, with a senior official ‘ripping the shreds’ off him instead of offering support.
The cricketer was giving evidence to MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport committee after a report earlier this year found he was a victim of ‘racial harassment and bullying’ but the club said they would not discipline anyone. The remarks have also been dismissed by other players as ‘banter’.
In his highly emotional account Rafiq said he had lost his career to racism after making an official complaint about bullying, but hoped that by speaking out he could change the game.
He said the word ‘P***’ was ‘used constantly’ and Asian players were told to sit ‘near the toilets’ and referred to as ‘elephant washers’.
He told how, aged 15 and a practising Muslim, he was ‘pinned down’ and had red wine poured down his throat by a senior player at his local cricket club.
And he said racism had seeped into the England dressing room, where it was an ‘open secret’ that the England and Yorkshire player Gary Ballance used the word ‘Kevin’ as a derogatory word for black and Asian players, an allegation Ballance has denied.
He added that England batsman Alex Hales allegedly named his dog Kevin because it was black.
Hales strongly denied the claims in a statement yesterday.
Rafiq also criticised other players not directly involved in racist behaviour for failing to recognise the damaging culture and doing nothing to stamp it out.
They included England test captain Joe Root – described by Rafiq as ‘a good man’ – who was present when racist slurs were made.
He said problems began with Yorkshire CCC’s hierarchy when he was labelled a troublemaker for complaining about bullying by a teammate. It came to a head in his treatment by cricket director Martyn Moxon during his wife’s difficult pregnancy, which ended in the unborn child dying.
Choking back tears, the father of two said: ‘My first day back after losing my son Martyn Moxon literally got me in a room and ripped the shreds off me. I’ve never seen him speak to anyone like that through my time at the club and I couldn’t believe it.’
Decision-makers are braced for a testing day on Friday, as the England and Wales Cricket Board takes part in a game-wide meeting at The Oval.
The governing body’s handling of the ongoing racism crisis, set in train by Rafiq’s allegations against Yorkshire but seemingly spreading wider by the day, is likely to attract major criticism.
The chairs of the 18 first-class counties will meet, joined by representatives of the 21 non-first class cricket boards, the national counties cricket association and the MCC, and it is understood there is some disquiet about the glacial pace and hands-off manner the scandal has been dealt with.
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison is also expected to come under fire from some in attendance, following his unheralded appearance in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee shortly after Rafiq.
With the ECB already operating under an interim chair, Barry O’Brien, due to Ian Watmore’s recent departure, Harrison will be hoping he can restore confidence in his leadership of a game which has been in a near constant state of emergency since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cricket governance also remains on the agenda at Westminster, with sports minister Nigel Huddleston raising the prospect of an independent regulator should the current ECB regime fail to deliver on the issue of racism.
Speaking to the DCMS select committee which had interviewed both Rafiq and Harrison, he said: ‘With cricket, I’d say the clock’s ticking on this, we might well go down that route as well.
‘We’ve had very frank conversations with ECB and others involved in cricket over the last couple of weeks. I have had reassurance that they take the issue seriously and will act.
‘Tom Harrison has promised me that with every fibre of his being he will take action here. He knows he needs to act quickly. We will judge them on their deeds and not their words, and if they fail to act appropriately we will not hesitate to intervene further.’
Rafiq mentioned Lloyd during his evidence to MPs as an example of the ‘denial, briefings, cover-up, smearing’ that he alleged took place after he went public with his racism complaints against Yorkshire.
He said: ‘High-profile media people messaging other members of the media who supported me saying stuff like, ‘The club houses are the life blood of a club and Asian players don’t go in there’, ‘Getting subs out of Asian players is like getting blood out of stone’.
‘And then personally this guy is talking about my personal drinking, going out and socialising. That was David Lloyd.’
Rafiq also told the DCMS: ‘Pretty early on at the club, I joined a dressing room full of my heroes, Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, part of the 2005 Ashes team. And it was just the most surreal moment for me.
‘Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian background…there were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant washers’.
‘The word P*** was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.’
Rafiq added: ‘All I wanted to do is play cricket and play for England and live my dream and live my family’s dream.’
He added: ‘In my first spell, I don’t really think I quite realised what it was. I think I was in denial.’
He said he started medication due to his deteriorating mental health and left Yorkshire for the first time in 2014.
When he returned he initially felt settled under captain Alex Lees and coach Jason Gillespie.
‘Jason left in 2016 and it just felt the temperature in the room had been turned up,’ Rafiq said. ‘You had Andrew Gale coming in as coach and Gary Ballance as captain.
‘For the first time I started to see for what it was – I felt isolated, humiliated at times. Constant use of the word ‘P***’.’
Rafiq said on a 2017 pre-season tour Ballance had racially abused him.
‘We were in a place and Gary Ballance walks over and goes, ‘Why are you talking to him?
‘You know he’s a P***’. This happened in front of team-mates. It happened in front of coaching staff.’
And he said racism had seeped into the England dressing room, where it was an ‘open secret’ that the England and Yorkshire player Gary Ballance (pictured) used the word ‘Kevin’ as a derogatory word for black and Asian players, an allegation Ballance has denied
Yorkshire Cricket Club scandal timeline
2008-2018: Azeem Rafiq spends 10 years at Yorkshire CCC, becoming their youngest-ever captain and first of Asian origin in 2012.
September 2020: Yorkshire launch investigation as Rafiq reveals that ‘deep-rooted’ racism at the club left him ‘close to committing suicide’. ‘I would regularly come home from training and cry all day,’ he said. Accusations included people saying there was ‘too many of you lot’ referring to Rafiq and Asian team-mates.
December 2020: Rafiq files legal claim against the county, claiming he suffered ‘direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race, as well as victimisation and detriment as a result of his efforts to address racism at the club’.
June 2021: Report is delayed and Rafiq’s lawyer says the pushbacks ‘create a lack of faith in the entire process’. Employment tribunal is held but parties fail to resolve the dispute.
August 2021: Yorkshire issue ‘profound apologies’ to Rafiq as report finds he was ‘the victim of inappropriate behaviour’. But they do not accept the claim of institutional racism – Rafiq accuses the county of ‘fudging’ his claims and promised he was ‘not going away’.
September 2021: ECB are ‘very concerned’ with the summary of the panel’s findings, with Yorkshire admitting Rafiq was the victim of ‘racial harassment and bullying’.
But just seven of the 43 allegations made are upheld, with Yorkshire saying they do not intend to publish a full report.
October 2021: Yorkshire say they will not take disciplinary action against any of its employees following the report. Rafiq writes on Twitter that the club is ’embarrassing’, saying it gives a ‘green light’ to racism.
Last week: Details of the report are published by ESPNcricinfo, including a senior player’s admission that he repeatedly used the word ‘P***’ in reference to Rafiq, which was deemed ‘banter’. Health secretary Sajid Javid said ‘heads should roll’, with the Prime Minister asking the ECB to investigate.
Last week: MailOnline reveals the player was Rafiq’s former Yorkshire team-mate, England batsman Gary Ballance. Sponsors Anchor Butter, Yorkshire Tea and Emerald all cut ties with the club.
Former England batter Ballance admitted using a ‘racial slur’ towards Rafiq in a lengthy statement this month, apologising but framing it as part of their friendship.
Rafiq told the committee that was not an accurate depiction of their relationship, saying it went downhill from 2013 onwards and had become toxic by 2017.
Asked by chair Mr Knight about the term ‘Kevin’, he said it was an offensive, racist term that reached the very top of the game.
‘Kevin was a something Gary used to describe anyone of colour in a very derogatory manner. It was an open secret in the England dressing room,’ he said.
‘Anyone who came across Gary would know that was a phrase he would use to describe people of colour.’
Rafiq also alleged former England batter Alex Hales was involved, saying: ‘Gary and Alex Hales got really close to each other when they played for England together.
‘I wasn’t present in that dressing room, but what I understand (is) that Alex went on to name his dog ‘Kevin’ because it was black. It’s disgusting how much of a joke it was.’
Rafiq, who is a Muslim, also described his harrowing first experience of alcohol at the age of 15. ‘I got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat, literally down my throat,’ he said.
‘The player played for Yorkshire and Hampshire. I (then) didn’t touch alcohol until about 2012 and around that time I felt I had to do that to fit in.
‘I wasn’t perfect, there are things I did which I felt I had to do to achieve my dreams. I deeply regret that but it has nothing to do with racism.
‘When I spoke I should have been listened to. The game as a whole has a problem, with listening to the victim. There is no ‘yeah, but’ with racism; there is no ‘two sides’ to racism.’
Rafiq said the problem at Yorkshire was replicated ‘up and down the country’.
Asked about the fact others, such as former Essex and Northamptonshire player Maurice Chambers, had now spoken out, Rafiq said: ‘I would like to see it as progress that people are feeling like they can come forward and they are going to be heard and not just be discredited, smeared about, briefed about.’
He described England and Wales Cricket Board initiatives on diversity as ‘box-ticking’ exercises and ‘tokenism’. He said former England coach David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd had talked about Rafiq’s drinking.
He added: ‘He’d been an England coach and commentator and I found it disturbing, because Sky is supposedly doing this amazing work on bringing racism to the front and within a week of me speaking out, that’s what I got sent to me and I thought, ‘God, there are some closet racists and I need to do something about it’.’
Rafiq added: ‘I think with four or five months left on my contract, I was encouraged to sign a confidentiality form and take a parcel of money which I refused.
‘At that time it would have been a lot of money for me. I think my wife was struggling. I knew I was struggling.
‘There was no way mentally I could have even considered putting myself through this trauma. I actually left the country. I went to Pakistan. I never wanted to come back.’
Asked how he had summoned the strength to come forward, Rafiq added: ‘I had an interview about my new business. I got asked a question. And I got emotional. I said everything.
‘Even at that point, I genuinely thought that there might be some humanity left in some of these individuals. But no. They thought, ‘He hasn’t talked about Yorkshire’.
‘It was all about ‘discredit, discredit, discredit’. I don’t know how I’ve done it. This last 14 months has been incredibly difficult.’ The committee took a break as Rafiq became visibly emotional.
After the committee took a break as Rafiq became visibly emotional, Rafiq said he found it ‘hurtful’ England captain Root said he had never witnessed anything of a racist nature at Yorkshire.
‘Rooty is a good man. He never engaged in racist language,’ Rafiq said.
‘I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary (Ballance)’s housemate and had been involved in a lot of the socialising where I was called a ‘P***’.
‘It shows how normal it was that even a good man like him doesn’t see it for what it was. It’s not going to affect Joe, but it’s something I remember every day.’