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Azeem Rafiq interview: Graves’ return to Yorkshire is failure of governance

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Azeem Rafiq has insisted that diversity for diversity’s sake will not cure the plague of racism and discrimination that has been unearthed in cricket.

The former Yorkshire county cricketer was central to bringing to light serious allegations of racism against the club – which were upheld – and vital in driving change at the England and Wales Cricket Board when it comes to responding to discrimination. 

Speaking to City A.M. Rafiq states that the old boys’ club that permeates sport governance is more focused on withholding access to outsiders and preserving the status quo than embracing necessary change. 

Rafiq: People just move on

“The reality is people move on. There’s a lot going on regarding the progress. I can’t believe we’re here again. It took me 14 months from August 2021 – I was more or less tweeting, challenging, asking questions – and you had all the grand apologies, you had all of the things that we’ve had, whether it be from the ECB, from the PCA, everyone at Yorkshire,” Rafiq says.

“Actions speak louder than words and it’s a very clear action from cricket to say to people of colour and people from ethnic minority groups that this game is not a safe place for you.

“They don’t want to give the keys to their palace to anyone else and a lot of times the situation is like, ‘let’s go get a brown person, let’s go get a black person and that will solve everything’.

“I’ve seen the closing of the ranks.”

Rafiq’s concerns come as former Yorkshire chairman Colin Graves prepares to return to the club, with his takeover bid recently given member and board approval.

His proposal would see the former ECB chief work to give the international ground a favourable lease and other benefits.

But Graves previously referred to alleged racist comments from the club as banter, a statement he has recently apologised for.

Accountability can be uncomfortable

“I’ve always tried to believe these people when they first apologised and I was the first person to go out there and fight for Yorkshire to get international cricket back [once it was taken away as a punishment],” Rafiq adds.  

“This is a failure of leadership. This is a failure of sports governance. Accountability is the thing that makes everyone uncomfortable, but accountability is the one thing that always gets thrown out the window, because that means making decisions for leaders where some of them would have to relinquish their powers.

“The independent regulator was misleading at best, lying at worst. Leaders come in, they do their thing and then move on. Is sport governance in cricket for purpose? 

“It seems like at the minute the internet connection at ECB headquarters has gone down because no one can get in touch with them – they’re supposed to be governing the game. 

“You talk about bringing the game into disrepute, our game has been flushed into the mainstream for all the wrong reasons.

“I’m incredibly frustrated, I’ve had to leave the country, I’ve had to leave a place I’ve called home for over 21 years. 

“I’m not naive to the fact that Yorkshire ended up in a situation where Graves is the only option. But how they’ve ended up there is incredibly debatable.

“[Chiefs moving on to other jobs] are just the same people failing upwards, that’s why the keys never get handed to anyone else. Because it’s a job for the boys at work. It seems to be the way and that’s why it’s a big problem. I absolutely think the way these roles are recruited is a huge problem and that goes back to the governance of sport.

“This is not just a cricket problem.”

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