I lost my career to racism, the game needs to listen to a lot of people who have suffered, says Azeem Rafiq

I lost my career to racism, the game needs to listen to a lot of people who have suffered, says Azeem Rafiq

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Azeem Rafiq played for England junior teams and Yorkshire CCC


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Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq has told British lawmakers on Tuesday that he had lost his cricket career to racism. Rafiq had exposed the institutionalized racism in the Yorkshire County Cricket Club in September 2020, and an independent committee has been investigating the matter.

Rafiq moved to England in 2001 and has represented the U15, U17, and U19 national sides before getting selected for the Yorkshire squad in 2009. In 2011, Derbyshire acquired his services as a loan. While playing for Derbyshire, he revealed that he felt like he was wanted in the side. After the season, the Karachi-born player signed a two-year extension contract with Yorkshire as the club was relegated from Division One in the County Championship. At the end of the 2012 season, the club was promoted back, thanks to Rafiq's 26 wickets in 10 games. In 2014, due to a knee injury, Rafiq left the country and didn’t feature in any competitive game for two years. 

In 2016, he was inducted into the county's Second XI after impressing his old skipper Andrew Gale in the nets. The 30-year-old was left out of the squad in the following year, with the club citing a limited budget. In 2020, while giving an interview to Wisden, Rafiq revealed that he experienced racism while playing for Yorkshire. An independent report by the investigating committee found that a number of Rafiq's accusations were true and the trials are going on. Former chairperson of the club, Roger Hutton has admitted the club is institutionally racist. 

In the hearing on Tuesday, Rafiq said that he is hopeful of witnessing a massive change in five years' time.

"All I wanted to do was play cricket and play cricket for England and live my dream and live my family's dream. Do I believe I lost my career to racism? Yes I do.

"Hopefully in five years time we're going to see a big change and I can look back at it that I did something that is far bigger than any runs I got or any wickets I got. But it's horrible, it hurt," Rafiq told the hearing.

The former England U19 skipper added that the game needs to hear the people who have suffered due to racism. 

"There's a quick rush to move forward. I think before we move forward, the game needs to listen to a lot of people who have suffered a lot of abuse up and down the country, the former England U19 skipper added. 

"I can't even imagine as a parent, hearing me speak now, why I would ever want my kids to go anywhere near the game... this is where it's for the ECB and the counties to show that they can actually use this as an opportunity for change."

The former Yorkshire skipper further added that the club and the game, in general, have a problem listening to the victim. 

"I've been clear from the outset, I wasn't perfect. There's things I did I felt I had to do to fit in and try and achieve my dreams and I'm not proud of them, it's something I deeply regret but it has no relation to racism, the former Yorkshire skipper further added. 

"I should have never, ever been treated the way I was treated. When I spoke I should have been listened to. Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the game as a whole really has a problem listening to the victim. There is no two sides to a story when it comes to racism."

Azeem revealed an incident back in 2012 when red wine was poured down his throat forcefully. 

"The first instance of drinking, I actually got pinned down at my local cricket club and red wine got poured down my throat. The player played for Yorkshire, played for Hampshire, Azeem revealed.

"I didn't touch alcohol until about 2012 and around that time I felt like I had to do that to fit in. I regret that massively, but it has no bearing on the things that I was called."

The former right-arm off-break bowler further revealed that he was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement and take a sum of money, which the spinner refused despite his family's financial struggle.

"When I left I had four or five months left on my contract. I was encouraged to sign a confidentiality agreement and take a sum of money, which I refused, which at that time would have been a lot of money for me. I knew my wife was struggling, I knew I was struggling, there was no way mentally I could have even considered putting myself through this trauma. I left the country, I actually went to Pakistan and I never wanted to come back, the former right-arm off-break bowler explained.

"Until right at the end, I was in complete denial as to what was going on. It was only around the back end of 2017 when I lost my son that I went, you know what, hold on a minute, I've seen other players have family tragedies and get support beyond measure. I've just carried my son from the hospital to the graveyard and how I'm getting treated here is not right.

"To me, it became very clear that even myself, I'd been looking the other way and there's a real problem here, at not just Yorkshire, throughout the country and I'm going to be the one that speaks about this."

Rafiq said that he used to worry about being discredited by the club and never knew how to deal with it. 

"We've got two young kids and they've not had a dad really because all I've been worried about is Yorkshire going out to discredit me and how I'm going to deal with it. Dealing with lawyers, dealing with press. [It's been] challenging but I just hope today provides some sort of closure and I can treat her for what she deserves," Rafiq stated.

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