Former English cricketer Azeem Rafiq: “Do I think I lost my career to racism?
Yes I think so"
Richard Sellers / Getty Images
Azeem Rafiq spoke to a special committee in the British Parliament for almost two hours. His voice broke several times, and tears came several times. He reported how he, a Muslim born in Pakistan, had been forcibly given red wine while playing cricket in England, as he and other players with Pakistani roots had been with for years at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, England's most successful club Teammates were insulted racially.
"You sit over there, by the toilets." "We have too many of you, we have to do something." And how the club leadership, the association and the players' union had failed to protect him and other victims of racism.
When asked by an MP whether he considered racism to be an institutional problem in English cricket, Rafiq replied, "Yes, I do."
Rafiq at the hearing in the UK Parliament on Tuesday
Photo: HANDOUT / AFP
The 30-year-old's appearance in Parliament on Tuesday was the culmination of a scandal that has rocked England's cricket for weeks and has become a matter of national concern. Top politicians like Prime Minister Boris Johnson or his Health Minister Sajid Javid, himself the son of Pakistani immigrants, comment on the events. The BBC's news programs open up with the topic, and instead of on the sports pages in the back section ("back pages"), English newspapers report on the front page about the "cricket racism row", as the "Times" calls the complex.
At its center is Rafiq, a former England youth international and the first captain of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club with South Asian roots.
Rafiq was active for the club from 2008 to 2014 and from 2016 to 2018.
By his own admission, this time was an ordeal for him.
»Do I think I lost my career to racism?
Yes, I think so, ”said Rafiq.
Insults were played down
Cricket may be of little importance in Germany.
But the sport is enormously popular in many countries around the world.
For example in England.
This, too, gives the Azeem Rafiq case great scope.
A little over a year ago, in a conversation with the Wisden, the central body of sport in England, Rafiq reported for the first time about his experiences with racism at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
The association then commissioned an allegedly independent investigation into the allegations.
The results of this investigation and the way in which it was dealt with led to the fact that Rafiq's allegations have become one of the greatest scandals in the history of English sport.
The racist insults against him were played down as what is called "banter" in England, that is, teasing that was meant to be fun.
Only a few of Rafiq's allegations were proven, namely seven out of 43. The Yorkshire County Cricket Club saw no reason for personnel consequences.
This attitude has now changed.
President Roger Hutton and General Manager Mark Arthur resigned, and coach Andrew Gale was suspended.
The reason for this was the pressure from all sides.
The English association withdrew the club's right to host international matches, and sponsors canceled their contracts - from international corporations such as outfitter Nike to locally based companies such as Yorkshire Tea.
The damage to the club and to England's cricket in general is immense, financial and reputational.
Not just a problem of sport
Rafiq's accusations and the way they deal with them create the image of a sport that cultivates the degradation of people based on their origins, disgusts critical voices as polluting the nest, maintains archaic rituals and is only forced to act when there is no other way due to public outrage.
And it would be naive to dismiss these conditions as a pure problem of sport.
The Guardian said: “This case took place in cricket, but it could have happened anywhere: the police, the public sector, the media, an investment bank.
A few heads roll, those in power vow to get better and the world goes on turning. "
This is one of the reasons why the topic is so big in England - because it points to a social problem.
Many people in England experience the racism that Rafiq describes in everyday life.
At the moment there is great hope that the world will not just keep turning. In many English media, Rafiq's statements and the force of public outrage are referred to as the "watershed moment," that is, a turning point for English cricket. Similar to English football, where there has been an increased sensitivity to racism for a few years due to the commitment of players like Raheem Sterliing or Marcus Rashford, a friendlier culture for people of all origins is also to be created in cricket. A few changes can already be observed.
The new president of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club is Lord Kamlesh Patel, who reported on his debut that he was a fast runner as a teenager - because he was constantly fleeing local skinhead squads.
He knows about racism.
The Yorkshire County Cricket Club is also one of several clubs that have set up a kind of whistleblower hotline.
Former players can report there about experiences of racism.
An independent commission for more equality in cricket in England reported that more than a thousand people reported about racism within a week.
Their voices cannot simply be ignored in the future.