Who is Azeem Rafiq – The Yorkshire Player In the Middle of Racism Scandal That Has Rocked England Cricket

English cricket and some of its representatives have landed in hot waters ever since former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq made some serious allegations of racism. The incident has not only rocked the cricketing world, but has also inspired several players ‘of colour’ to reveal their nightmarish experiences.

But who is Azeem Rafiq whose claims has led to the resignation of several top officials?

Rafiq is a Pakistan-born former professional cricketer who moved to England in 2001. He became a member of Yorkshire’s cricket academy and was named the captain of England Under-15 in 2006. He rose to success in a short span of time and starting receiving accolades for his performances. In 2007, he became Yorkshire’s Junior Performer of the Year and in 2008, he received a Brian Johnston Memorial Trust scholarship.

Start of career in senior cricket

In June 2008, Rafiq made his debut for Yorkshire’s First XI in a Twenty20 Cup match against Nottinghamshire. Since he didn’t have UK Passport, he had to wait to get registered as domestic player. Meanwhile, he was given a special exemption by the ECB. Once his citizenship was confirmed, he signed a three-year deal with Yorkshire and began his senior cricketing career as a home player.

U-19 Days

Rafiq soon made it to England Under-19 and was named the captain in 2009 during the England tour of South Africa. Later in the year, he led the English colts in a tour of Bangladesh and then in a tour of New Zealand in early 2010. His leadership and competitiveness was appreciated by the then-coach Mark Robinson.

Ban by ECB

Later in 2010, Rafiq was indulged in a controversy as he was dropped from the side for a mid-match curfew during a series against Sri Lanka U-19. He then posted some distasteful tweets, targeting his new coach John Abrahams but later deleted them. While the Yorkshire suspended him, he was slapped with a ban of one month from all forms of cricket.

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Stint at Derbyshire

In 2011, he joined Derbyshire County Cricket Club on loan and played three County Championship games and spent quite a great time. He scalped around 11 wickets before returning to Yorkshire. At the end of the season, he signed a 2-year contract extension with Yorkshire CCC after the club was relegated in the County Championship’s division one.

Return to Yorkshire

Rafiq was back to Yorkshire and was set to play the County Championship for the first time since 2010. Fellow spinner Adil Rashid was dropped and Rafiq fond a spot. He also led the club in six matches after regular skipper Andrew Gale was injured. He became the youngest skipper for the club and moreover, first player of the Asian origin to lead Yorkshire. The side won five off the six games and made it to the final in which they lost to Hampshire.

By the end of the season, Rafiq was a star performer and Yorkshire had gained the Division One stature. That year he picked up 26 wickets from 16 games.

After a terrific stint, he had to leave the county as he suffered a knee injury and restricted his cricketing activities.

Second return to Yorkshire

Rafiq returned to Yorkshire to 2016 after overcoming the problem in his action and coaching thoroughly in Dubai. He then bowled at new coach of the team who happened to be his former captain, Andrew Gale. He was asked to play a Second XI match and then he made it to county’s First week the following week.

In 2016, he picked up 24 wickets, 15 of them in T20 Blast. In 2017, he was county’s leading wicket-taker in One Day Cup. The following year he was released by the club citing budget issue and then moved to Pakistan and played single first-class appearance in Quaid-e-Azam Trophy before featuring in minor county cricket for Lincolnshire CCC.

Career Stats

In his short-spanned career, Azeem played 39 First class games and picked up 72 wickets. In 35 List A matches, he picked 43 wickets and has 102 scalps in 95 T20s.

Revelation of racism incidents.

He first spoke out in September 2020. Speaking in an interview with ESPN Cricinfo, he claimed that ‘institutional racism’ at the Yorkshire CCC had left his shattered and compelled him to take his own life. Rafiq claimed was prone to abuse and said that racist language, about his Pakistani background, was used for him during his stint at the club.

Yorkshire’s Response

In response to Rafiq’s claim, the Yorkshire CCC launched a ‘formal investigation’. The following year, it accepted that the cricketer was a victim of ‘racial harassment’, upholding 7 of 43 allegations.

The club, on October 28, stated that no official would face any disciplinary actions. Chairman Roger Hutton said there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to justify the claims.

Aftermath

November 4, 2021: ECB suspended Yorkshire from hosting international games at its Headingley Stadium in Leeds.

November 5, 2021: Hutton resigned and apologised ‘unreservedly’ to Rafiq.

Several other board members, including Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur, also stepped down.

Rafiq appears before MPs

On Tuesday, November 16, Rafiq appeared before a UK parliamentary committee to face questions from MPs.

His claims included that red wine was once forcefully poured down his throat after he was pinned down. This unfolded during his early playing days at a local club when he was 15 years old. He added that this was done by a by a former Yorkshire and Hampshire player.

“I got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat, literally down my throat. The player played for Yorkshire and Hampshire. I [then] didn’t touch alcohol until about 2012 and around that time I felt I had to do that to fit in. I wasn’t perfect, there are things I did which I felt I had to do to achieve my dreams. I deeply regret that but it has nothing to do with racism,” Rafiq said.

Also Read: Azeem Rafiq Apologises for Anti-Semitic Remarks Dating Back to 2011

In latest developments, Rafiq apologized Thursday after admitting to sending antisemitic messages 10 years ago. British newspaper The Times of London reported it has seen an exchange of messages that appear to have been sent between Rafiq and another former cricketer, Ateeq Javid, and which contain disparaging comments about an unnamed Jewish person.

Rafiq confirmed in a post on Twitter that he did send the messages and has “absolutely no excuses.”

“I am ashamed of this exchange and have now deleted it so as not to cause further offense,” Rafiq wrote. “I was 19 at the time and I hope and believe I am a different person today. I am incredibly angry at myself and I apologize to the Jewish community and everyone who is rightly offended by this.”

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