English cricket confronts racism scandal as hearing begins
A long-awaited hearing examining racism allegations which brought shame on English cricket’s most successful county team started Wednesday, with past and present internationals set to give evidence to a disciplinary panel over the next week.
It is the next stage of a scandal that erupted when Azeem Rafiq, a former player at Yorkshire, went public alleging he had been the victim of racial harassment and bullying across two spells at the club between 2008-18.
Rafiq’s complaints reached the British Parliament — where he testified through tears to legislators and called English cricket “institutionally racist” — and led to Yorkshire losing sponsors and briefly the right to stage international matches at its home, Headingley Stadium, over its response to the scandal.
Despite seven of Rafiq’s 43 claims being upheld after an investigation and Yorkshire apologizing for Rafiq being the victim of “racial harassment and bullying,” the full report was not published and didn’t lead to any of the club’s hierarchy facing disciplinary action following its own internal investigation.
As a result, disrepute charges were issued by the England and Wales Cricket Board in June against seven individuals with prior connections to Yorkshire Cricket Club, which was also charged.
Only one of the individuals — former England captain Michael Vaughan — is due to appear at the independent Cricket Discipline Commission hearing in London.
Vaughan is alleged by Rafiq to have told him and a group of Yorkshire teammates of Asian ethnicity that there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” at a match in 2009. Vaughan categorically denies the allegation.
Another of the individuals — former England batter Gary Ballance, who now plays for Zimbabwe — has already admitted to a charge related to the use of racially discriminatory language. The other five — John Blain, Tim Bresnan, Andrew Gale, Matthew Hoggard and Richard Pyrah — have said they will not attend the hearing.
Yorkshire has admitted to four charges and will also not participate in the hearing.
The ECB said last month the admitted charges included “a failure to address systemic use of racist and/or discriminatory language over a prolonged period and a failure to take adequate action in respect of allegations of racist and/or discriminatory behavior.”
Adil Rashid, the spinner currently representing England in a one-day international series in Bangladesh, is set to appear as a witness in the hearing via video link.
Rashid has corroborated Rafiq’s allegation against Vaughan, who briefly stepped back from media work following the accusations.
The hearing is taking place in front of a three-person panel and is scheduled to run until March 9.
On Wednesday, the ECB outlined its cases against Hoggard and Bresnan — two former England bowlers — as well as Blain. Rafiq, a former England under-19 captain, was among those giving evidence.
Bresnan was accused by the ECB of using a racial slur against Rafiq’s sister, Amna, and referring to Rafiq and Asian teammates Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan as “the brothers” and “you lot.”
Bresnan denied the allegations. He said the term “brothers” was used but not in a racial or discriminatory context, and detailed his use of the term “brothers” or “bro” in WhatsApp messages or group chats as part of his defense. He also insisted he had no recollections of using the phrase “you lot.”
Hoggard was also accused of referring to Rafiq and other Asian players as “you lot” and using the term “TBM” (token black man) toward teammate Ismail Dawood.
Hoggard admitted to using the phrase “you lot” but denied the use of it to identify a group of ethnic minority players. He also admitted to using the phrase “TBM” or “token black man” but denied it had any racist or discriminatory intent.
The ECB’s lawyer, Jane Mulcahy, said it was “more likely than not” that Bresnan, Hoggard and Blain used the racist phrases being alleged due to a number of reasons, including the systemic use of racist or discriminatory language during the relevant period at Yorkshire.
The scandal led to a huge amount of soul-searching in English cricket — primarily about its record on inclusivity and its locker-room culture — and huge change in the leadership of Yorkshire, a record 33-time winner of the county championship.
Roger Hutton and Mark Arthur resigned in November 2021 from their posts as chairman and chief executive, respectively. Under Hutton’s replacement, Lord Kamlesh Patel, Yorkshire announced the departure of 16 people — including director of cricket Martyn Moxon and Gale, the head coach — and a series of reforms which led to the club getting reinstated as an international venue.
Headingley hosted a test match between England and New Zealand in June last year.
The ECB created an anti-discrimination unit in the wake of the scandal, conducted a review of dressing-room culture across England’s men’s and women’s team and made a financial commitment of 25 million pounds (then $33.3 million) over five years to support actions improving equality, diversity and inclusion.
Improving boardroom diversity was one of the goals, along with helping people from diverse backgrounds progress into professional teams.
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