Yorkshire have been accused of being “institutionally racist” by Azeem Rafiq, with the former England Under-19s captain saying it left him close to taking his own life.
Rafiq, 29, spent 10 seasons at Headingley in two spells before his release in 2018 and, in a wide-ranging interview with ESPNCricinfo, has said his aim now is to prevent other players from the same experience.
Rafiq said: “I know how close I was to committing suicide during my time at Yorkshire. I was living my family’s dream as a professional cricketer, but inside I was dying. I was dreading going to work. I was in pain every day.
“There were times I did things to try and fit in that, as a Muslim, I now look back on and regret. I’m not proud of it at all. But as soon as I stopped trying to fit in, I was an outsider. There were no coaches on the staff from a similar background who understood what it was like. Look at the facts and figures. Look at a squad photograph. Look at the coaches. How many non-white faces do you see?
“Despite the ethnic diversity of the cities in Yorkshire, despite the love for the game from Asian communities, how many people from those backgrounds are making it into the first team? It’s obvious to anyone who cares that there’s a problem. Do I think there is institutional racism? It’s at its peak in my opinion. It’s worse than it’s ever been. My only motivation now is to prevent anyone else feeling the same pain.”
Rafiq has also detailed his experiences in recent interviews with Wisden.com and The Cricket Badger Podcast and said he regrets not challenging comments made in the dressing room during his rise up the ranks; one time he did speak out, he claims his “life was made hell” as a result.
Yorkshire, having declined to comment previously, issued a statement on Thursday. “The club has an equality and diversity committee, chaired by board member Hanif Malik. Hanif is in contact with Azeem about the allegations and will report back to the committee.”
This response comes in the same week Ian Watmore began his role as the new chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board with an admission that a lack of ethnic diversity on the governing body’s board – and across leadership positions in the sport generally – is “not acceptable”.
Rafiq said: “When I first spoke about this subject, to Wisden.com, I didn’t mention the club by name. As a result, Yorkshire claimed I might not have been talking about them. So let me make it really clear: I am talking about Yorkshire.
“I believe the club is institutionally racist and I don’t believe they are prepared to acknowledge the fact or willing to change.”
Rafiq, who was born in Pakistan but moved to Barnsley as a child, came through the club’s academy and battled back to win a second contract in 2016 after being released two years earlier. His final season at Yorkshire in 2018 was struck by personal tragedy when his son was stillborn.
Rafiq said: “I took my son straight from the hospital to the funeral. Nothing can be harder than that. Yorkshire told me they would look after me professionally and personally. But all I heard after that was a short email. I was told I was being released. I felt it was used against me, really. The way it was done was horrible. It killed me for a while.
“I lost all trust in anything and anyone. I’d spent the best part of a decade around those people. I thought they had my best interests at heart. I lost faith in humanity.”
• In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.