Cricket’s leading English institutions have apologised to former player Azeem Rafiq for the racism he suffered during his career, admitting that discrimination is a “blight” on the game, and promised cultural change after a devastating week for the sport.
The statement on Friday followed crisis talks in London, where the England and Wales Cricket Board, the domestic governing body; the Marylebone Cricket Club, which owns the Lord’s venue and is the guardian of the laws of the game; professional players and counties discussed new measures to tackle racism and discrimination.
They said they had been “shocked, shamed and saddened” by the revelations made by Rafiq in parliament this week. The former Yorkshire player said racism was widespread in the sport across the country.
As further allegations emerged, the crisis escalated to one of national significance. The scale of the meeting shows how serious the allegations are for a sport that had already pledged to make cricket more diverse and welcoming to new fans and players from different backgrounds as it seeks to broaden its appeal.
Failing to tackle racism could lead to major governance changes for the game, and particularly the ECB. Nigel Huddleston, the UK sports minister, has threatened “the nuclear option” of legislating to establish an independent regulator.
“To Azeem and all those who have experienced any form of discrimination, we are truly sorry,” the group said after meeting for several hours at the Oval ground. “Our sport did not welcome you, our game did not accept you as we should have done. We apologise unreservedly for your suffering.”
Asked whether he was considering his position, amid intense scrutiny of his handling of the crisis, ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said he had received “backing” at the meeting and that he felt “very determined to lead this change . . . and make sure this blight is addressed through the game”.
Rafiq, 30, told a House of Commons hearing on Tuesday that he and other people from Asian backgrounds had been subjected to racist bullying during his playing days at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, urging authorities to tackle the issue.
“There were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant washers’. The word ‘P*ki’ was used constantly,” Rafiq said. “There just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”
Although those attending Friday’s meeting committed to take action on racism and discrimination, they stopped short of detailing the measures they planned to take, with each body to consult their respective stakeholders before publishing further information next week. One person briefed on the matter said the goal was to provide the update on Wednesday.
According to someone with knowledge of the possible measures being considered, these include a standardised approach to complaints and whistleblowing across the sport; specific targets for diversity on boards and leadership teams; equality, diversity and inclusion training; and ensuring that stadiums create an inclusive environment on match days.
Other cricketers have come forward with their own stories of racism since Rafiq’s allegations, while Cindy Butts, chair of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket, which was set up by the ECB in March this year, has said that more than 1,000 people have responded to a call for evidence.
Rafiq himself apologised on Thursday for sending anti-Semitic messages on Facebook in 2011 when he was 19. “I am incredibly angry at myself and I apologise to the Jewish community,” Rafiq said.