Azeem Rafiq, a former English cricketer of Pakistani origin, testified on November 16 to the British Parliament’s select committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the racism he had experienced, over a number of years, while playing for the Yorkshire Cricket Club. Rafiq had brought the racist conduct of players and coach to the club authorities a number of years ago but they their response was inadequate. Last year Rafiq was being interviewed about his present business venture when he became emotional and spoke of his experience at the club.
Rafiq’s revelations attracted media attention. The club was forced to act. It could no longer brush these charges under a carpet. That is what it wanted to do earlier. Its approach is demonstrated by its offering a large sum of money to Rafiq in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement; it is to the Rafiq’s credit that despite being in financial difficulties he refused the offer. The club then asked a law firm to look into Rafiq’s charges. When the firm’s report did find instances of racist behaviour on the part of its cricketers the Yorkshire club did not effectively respond to them. It continued to be in denial and held that it had no “institutionalised” racism. Meanwhile, the select committee took note and decided to go into the charges. Under pressure the club’s chairman as well as its chief executive have now resigned.
Rafiq’s detailed testimony before the select committee has received extensive media coverage not only in Britain but throughout the cricket playing world. Rafiq did not hold back in his interaction with the committee. He gave graphic instances of the racist slurs he had to endure as well as the hostility shown to him when he complained to the club management about the racist conduct of the players. This negativity was shown to him even when his son was stillborn and he was in the club the day after he had buried him.
Rafiq’s testimony makes it clear that the racist behaviour he had to suffer was part of a pattern not directed at him alone but against all players of colour. It was a consequence of the mental make-up of the white players. It is also clear that this is a problem not in the Yorkshire club alone but extends to cricket in England. This is shown by the fact that youth of all ethnic backgrounds play cricket but a disproportionate number of white players reach the national team level. This is reflective of current British social attitudes despite the changes that have been witnessed in the country’s politics which has seen many people of colour holding cabinet positions. Earlier this year Prince Harry and his wife Megan, who is a person of colour, had accused the royal family of harbouring racist attitudes. They had attributed the family’s conduct towards them on that account. The Palace as well as Harry’s brother William, who after his father, Crown Prince Charles, is in direct line of succession to the throne had denied the accusation. These differences in the royal family and what they connote were covered by this writer in these columns earlier this year. At a minimum Rafiq’s testimony has shown that the roots of racism are deep in British society and that it will take a great deal of effort and deliberate action by the political class and social leaders to weaken them.
Azeem Rafiq’s charges have once again brought the problem of racism to the surface. What is troubling is that it relates to a game which has always stressed fair play. This even now when cricket, like football, involves big money and the organisations that run it more often than not look not only to the spirit of the game but to the bottom line too. It is now essential that the English Cricket Board takes decisive action to ensure that all players are treated equally and do not have to face discrimination and abuse at the hand of others. Such conduct can never be considered as good-hearted banter. Indeed, Rafiq who is now thirty years old and reached England with his family when he was ten revealed that he suffered great mental anguish. This reached such magnitude that his wife and he went to stay in Pakistan and though he had become a British national more than a decade ago he did not want to return to Britain.
There is another dimension to the racist attitudes in British and European societies. They have become transformed since the Second World War with the influx of people from all over the world, especially from their former colonies. In some cases individuals of great skill, education and wealth have made home in these countries and contributed to their welfare. But so have others who have held semi or unskilled jobs. This latter group has earned the ire and worse of the British and European working classes who do like them competing for jobs. This has built up resentments which finds expression in racist abuse. This can only be stamped out by decisive government and judicial action to begin with.
Britain and Europe have been in the forefront to lecture the world on human rights. Azeem Rafiq’s revelations show that before hectoring the world on the need to uphold human rights these countries have to put their own houses in order. Only then will they have any credibility when they raise these issues.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.