Yorkshire cricket’s racism scandal sees Test matches pulled and chairman quits

Yorkshire County Cricket Club faces losing several million pounds as a consequence of dropping the ball on its response to racism allegations from former player Azeem Rafiq.

Chairman Roger Hutton has this morning resigned, blaming “a culture that refuses to accept change” and he called on executive members of the board to resign. Read his full statement here.

His decision follows a disastrous day at Headingley that saw the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) suspend the club from hosting international and major matches and kit supplier Nike cancel its contract.

The ECB has also launched an investigation into governance at the club and “indefinitely” suspended Gary Ballance from England selection after he admitted using racist language which he now “deeply regretted”.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan has also been forced to deny allegations of racism after he was reported to have told Rafiq and other Asian players there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” in an incident in 2009.

The club is to hold an emergency board meeting today as they face a battle to keep hold of their reputations and roles, with significant announcements expected from the meeting.

The scandal has been brewing for more than a year after former Yorkshire player Rafiq gave an interview in which he said he encountered “institutional racism” at the club.

The club launched a formal investigation in September 2020 which reported in August 2021.

Speaking in September, Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton said: “There is no question that Azeem Rafiq, during his first spell as a player at YCCC, was the victim of racial harassment.

“He was also subsequently the victim of bullying.”

However it is the club’s response to the report which has seen the crisis snowball.

It only released a summary of the report’s findings, then missed an October 8 deadline set by an employment tribunal judge to share the report with Rafiq, before sending a heavily-redacted copy to the cricketer’s legal team.

Last week Yorkshire CCC said “there is no conduct or action taken by any of its employees, players or executives that warrants disciplinary action”. It was a position that was blown up when a cricket website published quotes from the report which described racist language as “friendly and good-natured banter”.

Julian Knight MP, who chairs the Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee, has called for the board to resign and said it was “one of the most repellent and disturbing episodes in modern cricket history”.

Senior officials from Yorkshire, including Hutton, chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon, as well as Rafiq have been called in front of Knight’s select committee on November 16.

A cacophony of political voices, ranging from Cabinet minister Sajid Javid, while an open letter from West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin, Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis and 34 MPs criticised the “disgraceful treatment” of Azeem Rafiq.

Separately, Leeds City Council leader Cllr James Lewis said: “The club urgently needs to address the organisation and culture factors that allowed this to happen and the cricket authorities need to intervene and make sure these issues never happen again.”

Key sponsors have withdrawn, including stadium brand partner Emerald and long-time cricket sponsor Yorkshire Tea, alongside several others that are reviewing their involvement and waiting on the outcome of today’s board meeting.

But it is the ECB’s threat to move matches away from Headingley that would have the biggest financial impact.

In 2019, the last year unaffected by the pandemic, Yorkshire earned £10.5m from international matches and £7.5m from all other activity. That season included the memorable Ashes Test match won by Ben Stokes and Jack Leach’s last-wicket stand, a one-day international against Pakistan, and four ICC World Cup fixtures.

Yorkshire CCC owed £18.3m at the end of 2019 and was anticipating not to make any major loan repayments – even before the arrival of the pandemic.

At that time, finance director Paul Hudson warned “the ability to make further significant debt repayments remains dependant on major matches or other one-off events”.

Headingley’s 2022 international matches are a Test Match in June between England and New Zealand and a one-day international between England and South Africa in July. Tickets have already been on sale for two months with around 60,000 understood to have been purchased.

The venue is also home to the Northern Superchargers, the men’s and women’s The Hundred teams. This season saw it host four matchdays in The Hundred that attracted crowds of more than 10,000.

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