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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Azeem Rafiq apologises for sending anti-Semitic messages

The messages were leaked less than 48 hours after Rafiq gave harrowing testimony at the Houses of Parliament about cricket’s racism scandal, weeping as he told MPs how the abuse he suffered had cost him his career – and nearly his life.

Rafiq conceded at the time he “wasn’t perfect” and had made mistakes of his own during his career.

Claudia Mendoza, co-chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said of his anti-Semitic messages: “There’s no doubt that this is massively awkward for Azeem Rafiq but he’s taken full ownership, apologised, and undoubtedly – through his own experiences – learnt a lot about racism since then.”

A panel appointed by Yorkshire as part of an investigation into Rafiq’s claims the club was institutionally racist had earlier found him guilty of racial abuse by calling team-mate Gary Ballance, who was born in Zimbabwe, “Zimbo”.

However, this finding was widely condemned, including by former Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak, who said it was no different to calling someone from Australia an “Aussie” and someone from New Zealand a “Kiwi”.

The same five-strong panel, which included three British Asians, also found Ballance calling Rafiq a P— had been “banter” which he was not entitled to be offended by.

The cricketer Rafiq admitted exchanging messages with, former Leicestershire player Ateeq Javid, did not respond to requests for comment.

Screenshots of the exchange appear to show Javid using the words “jew s—”.

Racism could damage Rafiq’s standing as voice for the voiceless

By Nick Hoult

Three days have passed since Azeem Rafiq’s explosive testimony blew open English cricket’s racism crisis but it has been greeted only by silence, denials or apologies from the game’s non-Asian majority.

It has shone a light on a worrying division along colour lines in English cricket that could take a long time, and a lot of work, to repair. 

Not one current senior white player or coach from the England set up or county team has expressed an opinion on Rafiq’s evidence, performance in front of the DCMS committee or his allegations about the culture of dressing rooms.

Instead the gap has been filled by Asian or black cricketing figures backing up Rafiq and thanking him for exposing cricket’s race issue.

Players are scared, counties are small operations in the middle of a storm way beyond their understanding and senior executives at the ECB could lose their jobs. Just as cricket needs unity and direction it is engaging in a damaging civil war that could end in a coup that topples Tom Harrison when the ECB chief executive leads a meeting with the counties at the Oval on Friday morning. 

This is an ever changing story too. It took an unexpected twist on Thursday when Rafiq’s own discriminatory, anti-Semitic remarks were made public for the first time. He apologised quickly and tweeted last night “at no point will I ever try and defend the indefensible. For those I have hurt I am sincerely sorry. I will continue to front up & own any more mistakes I have made.” 

He was trying to pre-empt any further revelations of his past behaviour that could emerge over the coming days and damage his standing as a voice for the voiceless that he promised to be when speaking to MPs. He has indulged in the same discriminatory language, long ago like some of those offering profuse apologies this week, and shown that dressing rooms have many dark secrets threatening to spill out now the door has been unlocked.

Rafiq’s compelling witness testimony was followed by a string of broadcast interviews on Wednesday including a ten minute slot at 8am on the Today programme aired on Thursday, an unheard of level of exposure for a cricket issue. Of course, this is something that goes beyond the sport, but a story that began 18 months ago with an interview published on the Wisden website has mushroomed into cricket’s biggest crisis and even attracted comment from the Prime Minister.

Despite all this nothing has emanated from the England team in Queensland, even after Rafiq’s finger pointing at them in his evidence on Tuesday. Even Sir Alastair Cook, who has not played for England for three years, was urged on Thursday to break his silence over the racism scandal at his beloved Essex after the club was hit by allegations culminating in former bowler Maurice Chambers saying he was called  a “f—— monkey”.

Cook was also a member of an England dressing room where Rafiq said this week it was an “open secret” that “Kevin” was used as a name for non-white people.

“Silence is not a defence. It will come out eventually and it’s far better to come forward now. Let’s deal with this so that we can all start to rebuild,” Clive Efford MP, the former shadow sports minister and a member of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport select committee which heard Rafiq’s testimony on Rafiq on Tuesday, told Telegraph Sport.

“If people think that saying, ‘I’ve not heard anything’, is going to continue to be a defence when we’ve clearly seen how extensive the matter-of-fact use of racist terms was, they need to think again.

“If you’ve witnessed it – okay, you’re not the perpetrator – you’re almost as guilty because you’ve refused to do anything. More importantly, now it’s already out in the open, you’re still remaining silent.”

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