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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Azeem Rafiq facing ECB probe over anti-Semitic messages

Azeem Rafiq is facing an investigation by the England & Wales Cricket Board over the exchange of messages with another cricketer in which he used anti-Semitic slurs.

In the latest twist in cricket’s racism crisis, the ECB has confirmed it will take action against the former Yorkshire off-spinner following his apology last week for sending the offensive messages in 2011, when he was 19.

Rafiq had referenced a Derbyshire player, Atif Sheikh, being reluctant to spend money on a meal out because “he is a jew”. He added that Sheikh would “probs go after my 2nds [second helping of food] again ha”, adding: “Only Jews do tht [sic] sort of s—.”

The messages to Ateeq Javid were leaked less than 48 hours after Rafiq appeared before a parliamentary committee and delivered harrowing testimony about cricket’s racism scandal.

“We have procedures in place to address conduct and allegations of this nature and we will investigate accordingly,” said an ECB spokesperson. “We want cricket to be an inclusive, welcoming game for everyone.”

The ECB is already investigating Yorkshire and Rafiq’s complaints of racial harassment and bullying, as well as a separate allegation that Essex chair John Farragher used racist language at a board meeting in 2017. Farragher denies the allegation.

The ECB had also already indefinitely suspended Gary Ballance from England selection, a position that will be reviewed following their regulatory investigation into his conduct. Ballance had admitted using the P-word but argued that it was in the context of a “friendly verbal attack”. 

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 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 also found Ballance calling Rafiq a P— had been “banter” which he was not entitled to be offended by.

The panel did find that Rafiq had been subjected to racial harassment and bullying at Yorkshire, and that the club had failed to investigate allegations of racism when they were raised in 2018.

‘Incredibly angry at myself’

Speaking to the Jewish News, Rafiq referenced his past lack of contact with the Jewish community and promised that he would educate himself.

“I just hope that they can see that I am genuinely sorry,” he said. “I don’t think I’m in any position to be asking the Jewish community on how they feel. All I can do is do my best, to show them that I am sorry.  And time to understand and learn and educate myself to make sure that I’m improving myself.

“I haven’t really integrated much with the Jewish community in the past. I’ve been around cricket all my life. And I don’t really recall having a team-mate from the Jewish community.”

Rafiq’s statement also said that he had “absolutely no excuses” and that, upon checking his account, he could confirm responsibility for the messages. “I am incredibly angry at myself and I apologise to the Jewish community and everyone who is rightly offended by this,” he said.

The ECB have stressed that no-one is immune from their disciplinary processes in the scandal and that there is no statute of limitations over historic messages.

Ollie Robinson received an eight-match ban – three of which have been served, five of which are suspended –  and a £3,200 fine for racist and sexist tweets earlier this year that he had posted between 2012 and 2014.

The ECB is also working on a 12-point action plan, which they intend to publish on Wednesday.

While the ECB do still feel certain that their strategy to inspire a greater diversity of young cricketers at a parks level can deliver, there is an internal acceptance that anti-discrimination policies have been exposed. 

Conversations inside the ECB have centred on the urgent implementation of a game-wide whistle-blowing policy which also includes a “softer” mechanic that will allow participants to raise poor cultures and practices without it necessarily becoming a full-blown disciplinary issue. 

They are also working with the Professional Cricketers’ Association on a major drive around dressing-room cultures and with the counties on ethnicity targets, with leaders told that their boards should reflect local communities.

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