Sporting Equals CEO Statement Azeem Rafiq

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In light of the findings regarding Azeem Rafiq's treatment during his time at Yorkshire County Cricket Club we were appalled by the allegations confirmed to have taken place. The allegations proven to be true reinforced consistent bullying and racism directed towards Azeem Rafiq. The club has maintained that the reasons for Azeem's dismissal from the club were purely performance based they have admitted there could have been more done on their part to build a more inclusive space for Azeem and the wider Muslim community to which Azeem belongs. We are surprised the club has not seen the connection between a welcoming environment and better performance before making that point.

The claims that were upheld and proven to be true included:
• When Azeem Rafiq was playing junior cricket for Yorkshire, he was not provided with halal food at matches. This has now been rectified.
• Prior to 2010 the Panel found that there were three separate incidents of racist language being used by former players which were found to be harassment on the grounds of race.
• Before 2012 a former coach regularly used racist language.
• During his second spell at Yorkshire between 2016 and 2018 there were jokes made around religion which made individuals uncomfortable about their religious practices.
• During his second spell at the Club, a former player made references to Azeem Rafiq's weight and fitness that amounted to bullying.
• In August 2018, when Azeem Rafiq raised concerns of racism there was a failure by the Club to follow its own policy or investigate these allegations.
• On a number of occasions prior to 2018 the Club could have done more to make Muslims more welcome within their stadiums and should have dealt better with complaints of racist or anti-social behaviour within those stadiums.

The report also highlighted those previous and current staff members had not received equity and diversity training which is something of grave concern to many. How can we expect ethnically diverse communities to feel welcomed and engaged if we do not as a sector commit to creating safe and inclusive spaces for all communities not just a select few? Sporting Equals has received many complaints from clubs and individuals about racism and racial discrimination experience, which means sadly that Azeem Rafiq's experience is not an isolated one. The Sporting Equals Racism in Sport Survey (2020) evidenced this too. Azeem's experiences seem to be echoed throughout the sector with similar experiences being tracked in the Tell Your Story Report by AKD Solutions (April 2021) which was commissioned by the UK Home Sports Councils to reflect on the true lived experiences of ethnically diverse communities within the UK sport and physical activity sector. The findings from both investigations highlight consistent issues of racism within the sport and physical activity sector which persist as a result of a lack of understanding, empathy and diversity.

Sporting Equals has been campaigning consistently to advocate for specific community understanding within the UK sport and physical activity sector. Whether this has been through our calls to diversify workforces to allow for empathy and understanding in sport with a 20% ethnically diverse leadership target or through our work with sports organisations through the Sporting Equals Charter. The Sporting Equals Charter is about supporting and encouraging sports organisations to do more when it comes to race equality, diversity and inclusion. It is about making sure sports bodies have the appropriate and fit for purpose policies and procedures to ensure staff, including players and administration, volunteers and spectators are not discriminated against when it comes to race and faith. We have continuously advocated for specific community nuances to be recognised, understood and reflected in policies and practices. The damage that can be felt when this approach is not adopted has been evidenced through the multiple instances of discrimination and bullying that Azeem Rafiq was subjected to.

We at Sporting Equals commend Azeem as he has highlighted how such behaviours are unacceptable, that accountability is necessary and further perpetuation of such practices must be stopped. Whilst we are pleased that the England and Wales Cricket Board have acknowledged the findings it is absolutely imperative that something is done about the shortcomings highlighted. The path forward for the sport and physical activity sector is to commit to training and education by working with partners who specialise in equality and diversity. This will enable them to have greater insight into intersectional challenges communities and individuals face in sport. These partners can share best practice and understand the importance of diversity within organisations through diverse workforces. Diversity is needed in decision-making spaces to allow for understanding, education and innovation of ideas that will build safe and inclusive spaces for all communities.

We hope that moving forward Yorkshire County Cricket Club will seek to engage organisations that have the knowledge, experience and support of ethnically diverse communities. That they take the time to equip the entire club with the knowledge and toolkit to be able to create a safe and engaging atmosphere so that all players and employees can reach their full potential and not run the risk of feeling segregated and discriminated against. We also hope that this appalling and cyclical case may act as a wake-up call for any other organisations who are yet to commit to making diversity, equity and inclusion a priority. We urge sports bodies to make sure that they have done as much as they can to ensure their sport is as inclusive as possible at all levels.