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On the 13th of June, a book called “It’s not banter, it’s racism” by the former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq will be published in the UK. This book matters because the events discussed in it have defined not only how many view the game of cricket today, but also the lives and careers of almost everyone associated with Yorkshire County Cricket Club over the previous 16 years. Over the next few weeks here at The Bouncer, we will be publishing The Yorkshire Flies, a series investigating everything that has gone on the club during this sorry time. We hope to speak to many who have been affected by it if they are willing.

Ever since Azeem Rafiq first appeared in front of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee in November 2021 to allege racial discrimination at Yorkshire County Cricket Club the ensuing scandal has divided our game. 16 members of staff were sacked without due process by incoming Yorkshire Chair Lord Kamlesh Patel after signing a letter questioning the club’s response to Rafiq’s claims and its lack of defence for its employees. Some had not even been at Yorkshire during Rafiq’s time there. Almost all have now received settlements from the club for unfair dismissal. Many have had their lives and careers shattered.
The Cricket Discipline Commission that followed pitted former teammates against each other in a squalid case of “he said, she said” with no real winners or clear outcomes.

Sadly, as with most issues in modern society, fairness and justice have become completely obscured as battle lines are drawn and the usual sides are taken amongst journalists and supporters on social media.

Those with a left leaning bent have believed almost everything Azeem Rafiq has said without question and sought to go out of their way to prove that cricket is a hotbed of racism and discrimination. Those of a more right wing disposition have dismissed Rafiq’s testimony out of hand, rather than subjecting it to rigour, as well as decrying any serious discussion of racism in the game as “woke.” As usual in these matters, the search for truth has become irrelevant compared each side gaining points over the other in the so-called “culture war.”

What is clear is that cricket mirrors society and, as in the rest of the country, incidents of racism and discrimination occur. When this happens, it should be called out as no one should be made to feel unwelcome in our game because of the colour of their skin or where they are from. Unacceptable things may have occurred at Yorkshire CCC during Rafiq’s time there, only those involved will know. Matthew Hoggard has alleged the “P” word was used in conversation at the club, although it’s worth remembering that this has been denied by almost everyone else involved. The independent report from law firm Squire Patton Boggs, commissioned by the club in 2020 to look into Rafiq’s initial allegations, remains unpublished in its entirety four years later.

The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket report published last year provides conclusive proof that, sadly, there are those who have felt the game is not for them and that must change. Discussion of the ICEC report will be left for another edition in this series. However, as well as highlighting genuine discrimination, the report appears to have been written with a verdict already in mind. Some of the claims it makes such as the idea that Mike Gatting’s row with umpire Shakoor Rana in 1987 was motivated by racism rather than frustration at poor officiating are, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, libellous.

Speaking to many figures in and around Yorkshire cricket, who prefer to remain nameless, it appears likely that if there was indeed a poor culture at the club during Rafiq’s time there then the former spinner was a key contributor to it. The accusations about his behaviour in the media alone, from fat shaming kids at a cricket camp to exposing himself to female hotel staff are as myriad as the allegations he has made against his teammates. Of course, it is important to point out that every negative account of Rafiq’s behaviour at the club is legally unproven but, and this is a fact that seems to have been forgotten by many in the cricket writing community, so are all of the accusations made by Rafiq about Yorkshire CCC.

Throughout all of this one of the key figures has been the journalist George Dobell. It is he who, almost from the start, has championed Rafiq’s case in parliament, in print and online. Dobell’s behaviour towards anyone who has dared to question Rafiq’s version of events has bordered on bullying. He decried the Yorkshire Post, the only major media outlet to voice concerns about Rafiq’s testimony, as “the voice of the racist” during a DCMS hearing. He referred to its cricket correspondent Chris Waters, a journalist of over 20 years’ experience who has written some of the finest books ever published on the game, as “out of his depth”. When the editor of the Post, James Mitchinson, pleaded with Dobell on X to cease his personal attacks, Dobell responded “It’s not all about you,” despite having done everything possible to make it about Mitchinson and his paper while under the protection of parliamentary privilege.

Anyone who questions Rafiq’s version of events on X is similarly insulted. A user who suggested Dobell “put down Twitter for the day” after another rant against former Yorkshire coach Andrew Gale, was told by the writer “I reckon I could say the same for you about pies. But we all have our hobbies, eh?.” The fact that Dobell would resort to such puerile playground insults while being the Chief Correspondent of The Cricketer magazine, a post he still holds, is staggering. It is also deeply disappointing that The Cricketer allowed him to be magazine’s key reporter on the Azeem Rafiq affair including the CDC commission hearings, despite Dobell being so close to the case. Sadly, the sacred principle of impartiality in journalism appears to be dead these days.

The problem for Rafiq is that up till now he has only made his allegations to the DCMS or at an internal commission where he cannot be sued. As soon as these accusations are put into print in a book they become libellous and the accused are able to sue for defamation of character. I expect this to happen soon. Wayne Morton, the club’s former physio, has already stated that his lawyers will be examining the book “very closely.” The only allegation Rafiq has ever been cross examined about, the infamous “you lot” comment alleged against Michael Vaughan, was found unproven with the CDC noting “significant inconsistencies” in the testimonies of both Rafiq and his key witness, England spinner Adil Rashid. It is also worth noting that both former Yorkshire HR manager Liz Neto and Rashid and Rafiq’s former teammate, Ajmal Shahzad have claimed that Rashid came to them to confide that he was being “pressured” by Rafiq to agree to his version of events despite having no memory of the incident occurring. Shahzad even went so far as to suggest that “there are “some murky things going on which are not nice to be involved with.” Predictably this was dismissed as “absurd” by Dobell, who also labelled Shahzad’s testimony as “confused and contradictory”. I have read Shahzad’s statement and there is nothing confusing or contradictory about it. Indeed, we will be examining it further in a later edition of this investigation.

There are many leading and well connected figures in the cricket media who must know the real truth of these events. People who suspect that many of Rafiq’s statements are exaggerated, taken out of context or possibly even, in some cases, fabricated. However, with the exception of Chris Waters, few have been willing to question the narrative publicly, crippled by the fear of being accused of justifying racism. Perhaps also many of us are aware that genuine racism exists in our game. The heartbreaking testimony of former Essex cricketer Maurice Chambers who was told “crawl for it you f***ing monkey” while having bananas thrown at him by a former teammate shows that cricket has failed people who loved it. Perhaps the fear that other, less questionable, stories will be ignored if we scrutinise Rafiq’s claims has led those who could speak out to keep their counsel. We cannot allow genuine victims of racism to be dismissed but we do not serve any of those who have suffered by unquestioningly believing every word spoken by Azeem Rafiq. By doing so we also let ourselves down as journalists for our training tells us that everything must be subjected to good, journalistic rigour to see what is true and what is false, not blindly reported as fact because of our own inherent guilt. One of the few writers to subject Rafiq’s testimony and the ICEC report to scrutiny, Mike Atherton, has been decried by Rafiq as part of the problem, someone who needs to be “taken on a journey” till he stops questioning the former Yorkshire player’s version of events. Even the veteran cricket writer David Hopps, a man who has campaigned tirelessly against racism for his whole career, has been attacked by Rafiq on X recently.

No one has come out of this affair as a winner. Azeem Rafiq and his family have been subjected to disgusting verbal abuse and threats online, as have many of the people he has accused and those who have defended them. However, the majority of the media have only appeared interested in telling one side of this sorry story.

It is important to remember that 16 careers were destroyed by the mass sackings at Yorkshire CCC, 16 families were affected. Many involved have spoken of mental health problems, suicidal thoughts and shattered lives. Former coach John Blain spoke heartbreakingly of looking at his son and wondering “if he would be strong enough to carry my coffin.” Wayne Morton talked movingly about the strain on both his and his family’s health and Michael Vaughan spoke of his wife being placed on beta blockers due to stress and his daughter experiencing extreme anxiety. Not one compassionate word has been uttered towards any of these people by either Dobell or Rafiq. Instead, Dobell referred to the 16 as a “cancer” that “you don’t negotiate with” in front of the DCMS and gloated callously on The Last Word cricket podcast that he would like to “re-hire them all tomorrow so I could sack them again”. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this case, this demonstrates a staggering lack of compassion or humanity.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to be publishing an in depth analysis of what really went on at Yorkshire CCC, including interviews with key figures involved. Nothing I write should be seen as diminishing or justifying the issue of racism in our game. However, we cannot address this problem by unquestioningly pinning our colours to the mast of one person or by destroying the lives and careers of innocent men

6 thoughts on “The Yorkshire Files Part 1 : Rafiq, Dobell and the search for truth

  • At last, the excellent Chris Waters excepted, a balanced and proper piece of journalism. Sadly, I endured Rafiq on Talk Sport today shamelessly promoting his book which I cannot see flying off the shelves.
    For him, a very average county cricketer given two chances by his “racist” employer, it was all about the money.
    So far as Dobell goes I find it incredible that this man is employed as a cricket journalist; small wonder the game is shrinking year by year.

  • Dobell used to be an informed writer who produced incisive reports. His inability to see both sides in these matters is deeply disappointing. Some have suggested it was a response to inappropriate comments/ actions by Colin Graves, but that does not justify it, any more than Sir Keir’s defence of Israeli war crimes justifies the anti-Semitism it provoked.

  • One of the few men to even attempt to examine the truth. An utter disgrace how these 16 men were treated still no public apology when is Dobell going to be held to account and Patel who took money out of YCCC for these illegal sackings ?

    • I had the misfortune to see Rafiq in action in a steam room at the crown hotel in Scarborough where the 2nds were rained off. He clearly told 3’women who he alleged turned him down due to his skin colour. It should be noted he ignored the rules on swimming shorts as well.

  • My name is Tony Vann. I joined the Yorkshire Committee in 1984 after being Secretary of The Yorkshire Members 1984 Group who defeated the General Committee in a SGM at the Harrogate Conference Centre on 21/1/1984 in all three resolutions.
    They were that GB could play in the 1984 season was carried by 4,000 voted to 3,000 votes. 2) The Cricket Committee lost a vote of no confidence by 800 votes and 3) The General Committee the. Lost a vote of no Confidence by just 29 votes out of around 7,000. As a result the entire Committee from the President Norman Yardley resigned two days later.
    New Elections were called and GB and myself plus others in our group were elected to the new Committee.
    I have given this information to you as you will be able to verify these facts and not a crank.
    I have read your first article this morning and it brings joy to my heart that you are exposing the lies that have been going on at my Club.
    I served on the Committee for 22 years before being made a VP in 2007 which continues to this very day. The last two and years have been just hell, until Colin Graves came back as Chairman a few months ago.
    The reason that I have written at such lengths is that I have read part issue 2 and you have made a very BIG error of talking about the Chairman Richard Hutton( Son of Sir Len Hutton) it was in fact Roger Hutton a Leeds based Solicitor!!!
    When you have read this text I would appreciate you sending me part 2 showing the correct details regarding the Chairman. Mobile 07909905493

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