A proud County finds itself under fire in latest cricket controversy

Yorkshire Country Cricket Club's handling of Azeem Rafiq's racism allegations have been criticised. (AFP/Getty)
Yorkshire Country Cricket Club's handling of Azeem Rafiq's racism allegations have been criticised. (AFP/Getty)
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Updated 11 November 2021

A proud County finds itself under fire in latest cricket controversy

Yorkshire Country Cricket Club's handling of Azeem Rafiq's racism allegations have been criticised. (AFP/Getty)
  • The recent outbreak of accusations of institutional racism in Yorkshire’s cricket suggest that long-time issues continue to exist to this day

Yorkshire and its people have always regarded themselves as special. They have stature as Britain’s largest county and a northern heritage which is fiercely protected. This is embodied in its county cricket club, which has won more championships than any other county. It has, however, been notorious for a tendency towards outbreaks of internal controversy that become public property.

A part of its special nature stems from a rule on formation in 1863 that no one born outside of the county should play for it. This did not prevent Lord Hawke, born in the neighboring county of Lincolnshire, from playing 510 matches for Yorkshire and being captain for 28 seasons between 1882 and 1910.

His eligibility to play for Yorkshire rested on conveniently revised qualification rules in 1873, when players had to decide at the start of a season whether they would play for the county of their birth or residence. Hawkes’ occupation of the family’s Yorkshire baronial residence in 1875 met the new requirement. During his tenure, he united the club’s geographical and social factions to mould a winning team out of a group once described as “10 drunks and a parson.”

It was not until 1992 that Yorkshire further relaxed qualification rules, making eligible those educated within the county. This facilitated the selection of another future England captain. All restrictions were jettisoned in 1993, when Sachin Tendulkar, the young Indian, became the county’s first overseas player. Subsequently, the majority of overseas players have been Australian and South African.

Some 6 percent of Yorkshire’s population of 5.5 million is estimated to be south Asian or of south Asian descent, on par with the national percentage. My Yorkshire-born south Asian friends tell me that their socialization began in school with use of Lord Tebbit’s infamous 1990 suggestion that those immigrants who support their native countries rather than England at cricket were not significantly integrated into the UK. Shades of this sentiment have been reported in India recently with stories of punishments for Indians who celebrated Pakistan’s victory over India.

In 1999, none other than Imran Khan accused Yorkshire of failing its Asian community. This generated an open trial for young Asians, but it was not until 2003 that a small trickle of Asian players produced the first British-born Asian to play for Yorkshire. In the following two decades that trickle failed to flow much faster.

This was despite a 1999 report by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Racism Study Group which found that 58 percent of all those questioned — and at least 70 percent of black and Asian respondents — believed that racism existed in the game.

Alongside the research was a 1998 parliamentary motion that called for action by the ECB on racism in the game. One of the report’s recommendations was that ethnic minority clubs should be encouraged into the mainstream. This was an issue in Yorkshire, where there was a tendency for a ghettoization of clubs according to color and race but, in my experience, it was not the only county to experience this feature.

If no one addresses these issues head-on, divisions become entrenched, yet no one is prepared to admit that they are racist — quite the opposite. There seems to be much of this in the Yorkshire situation. In 2004, the MP for Bradford North, Yorkshire, a constituency in a city with a 25 percent Asian population, accused Yorkshire CCC of being guilty of “deep-rooted, embedded racism.”

 This was met with a response from the then-chairman of “we are not prepared to put up with blatant lies and accusations of racism when they don’t exist.”

The recent outbreak of accusations of institutional racism in Yorkshire’s cricket suggests that not much has changed. In April 2020, a new chair was appointed with a reforming agenda. In an interview published in September 2020, Azeem Rafiq, a former Asian player, claimed racial harassment and bullying. Stung into action, the chairman commissioned an investigation of the allegations. Eventually, the report was submitted in August. Yorkshire chose not to make the report public or share a copy with the ECB, issuing a summary on Sept. 10 and a redacted copy to Rafiq on Oct. 13.

It is only possible to guess at the substance of discussions between Yorkshire’s executive and non-executive directors and the wider constituency which they represent. There were clear attempts to prevent or at least delay the report’s publication, along with a failure to accept any charge of institutional racism or that any player or member of the club’s staff should be disciplined. Indeed, the outgoing chair has stated that, in his view, no one at the club is racist.

This storm has been a long time in the making, brewed to the point which has made it a focus for criticism by race equality activists. These include politicians who have pushed the ECB into the storm, from which it is seeking to run for cover by withdrawing Yorkshire’s 2022 hosting of international matches on the basis that its handling of the Rafiq issue was leading the sport into serious disrepute.

There are many layers to the issue. One relates to Yorkshire’s chairman between 2012 and 2015, who went on to be appointed ECB chairman between 2015 and 2020, thus overlapping with Rafiq’s time at Yorkshire. The former chairman rescued the club financially in 2002 and helped in acquiring its Headingley ground in 2005. The club owes his family trust £15 million ($20.1 million) and the trust’s approval is required before anyone is appointed to the board of directors.

A new chairman, Lord Kamlesh Patel, a former ECB board member, was given unequivocal support by the trust last week. He has urgent business to address if the cracks are to be prevented from widening. Already, he has reached a settlement with Rafiq ahead of a parliamentary select committee on Nov. 16, when Rafiq and key executive members are due to give evidence, although at least one is citing stress-related illness. The outcomes of this tawdry affair have implications for cricket all over the world, not just for Yorkshire, which needs a Lord Hawke figure to rebuild its crumbling house.

Former Finnish F1 driver enjoys Saudi hospitality 

Former Finnish F1 driver enjoys Saudi hospitality 
Updated 45 sec ago

Former Finnish F1 driver enjoys Saudi hospitality 

Former Finnish F1 driver enjoys Saudi hospitality 

JEDDAH: The inaugural edition of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is set to be held in Jeddah from Dec. 3. 

Mika Häkkinen, a two-time Formula One champion and founder of the INZDR app, is in Jeddah to create awareness about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet.

The Finnish racing legend has been telling locals that “consuming a healthy, nutrient-rich diet is key to performing at your peak when you are an athlete and in general for living a radiant life.” 

Danube, the supermarket and hypermarket chain in Saudi Arabia, hosted a “Racing Kitchen” event at Red Sea Mall in Jeddah with Häkkinen.

The “Racing Kitchen,” hosted on the Danube app during the F1 season, features an array of nourishing recipes that could be part of a nutrient-rich diet to inspire an optimized lifestyle. 

Häkkinen, who is thrilled to be in Saudi Arabia, said: “Whenever I used to race, I always wanted to speak to the people of that country, understand their culture. Even though I am a two-time F1 world champion and the treatment will be special, I still wanted to understand how they will treat me. I have found Saudis to be very kind, nice, and polite. It reflects their parents’ and grandparents’ upbringing. With this kind of behavior, I have made lots of friends.” 

Through the INZDR app, the former Finnish driver said that F1 enthusiasts “can also learn more about the sport and get access to exclusive content from their favourite drivers.”

Two Finnish drivers, Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas, will also be participating at the Saudi Grand Prix. Commenting on who has a high chance of winning, Häkkinen said: “Kimi will retire at the end of this year. He had a great career in his life and he did fantastic work. I admire his energy which he gave to F1. Talking about the general speed, I do not think they have a really good chance but with F1 you never know what will happen. Speaking of Valterri Battos, he can be really good in the Saudi Grand Prix and may have a chance to win it too.”

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race
Updated 01 December 2021

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race
  • The Jeddah Corniche is the starting and ending point for the race

Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, adviser to King Salman, was briefed on the latest preparations for the Saudi Formula One race, which will be hosted by Jeddah Corniche from Dec. 3 to 5.

Al-Faisal listened to an explanation by Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal about the 27-turn, 6,175-meter-long circuit, the second-longest track in F1 history. 

Prince Khalid, who is the president of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, confirmed the completion of the preparations for hosting the F1 race.

The Jeddah Corniche is the starting and ending point for the race. Prince Khalid expressed his pride that the Kingdom is among the 23 countries hosting this great sporting event.

He also praised the Saudi leadership’s great support for sports, which made the Kingdom a major destination for global sporting events. He thanked Prince Khaled for his guidance and support to make this event a huge success.

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League
Updated 01 December 2021

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League
  • Continent’s premier club competition set for autumn-spring schedule switch in 2023, increase in number of foreigners allowed in squads

RIYADH: Only days after Al-Hilal may have just made history by winning a record fourth Asian title, the AFC Champions League’s future is set to look very different as there are some significant changes already in place for the 2023 edition.

The Asian Football Confederation, which operates the competition that expanded from 32 to 40 teams this year, is set to officially approve a shift in the tournament’s calendar for the first time in almost two decades.

Instead of running from spring to autumn, the event will soon mirror its European equivalent by switching to an autumn start and a spring finish.

On Nov. 21, AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, said: “I am pleased to note that the AFC competitions continue to grow. There will be changes to the rules on foreign players, as well as to our competitions calendar. These are all part of the strategy to improve our players, clubs, and national teams on the world stage.”

The calendar change, expected to be rolled out in 2023, will return the tournament to its original schedule that was mapped out 20 years ago.

“The AFC Champions League was launched in 2002 and the inaugural season kicked off in August 2002 with its scheduled completion by May 2003,” the AFC said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the outbreak of the respiratory illness SARS in Asia forced a postponement.

“Following this setback, the competition was relaunched in 2004 and the calendar was changed to February to December 2004, while the AFC Cup in 2004 took place from February to November 2004, leading to an adoption of the spring-autumn season,” the AFC said.

Ever since that initial change, there have been repeated requests for another look at the schedules and with a recent feasibility study being well-received, it all means that the changes will be agreed upon next year.

East Asian nations are especially happy with the change. Under the present format, the knockout stages come toward the end of the busy domestic seasons in China, South Korea, and Japan. Had Korean powerhouse Ulsan Hyundai won their semi-final against Pohang Steelers in October, the defending Asian champions would have had to travel to Riyadh for the final during the climax of the K-League title race and at the end of a grueling year.

A spring final would mean fresher eastern squads who would be just two or three months into their seasons as opposed to eight or nine.

For clubs in West Asia, it may present more of a challenge as domestic campaigns reach their zenith around the same time.

Until the final, the tournament is split into two geographic zones, east and west. That means that for much of the schedule, teams in each zone are in similar positions but the timing of the final, especially if it returns to a two-legged affair, tends to favor teams from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and elsewhere as they are just two or three months into their domestic seasons and approaching peak condition.

There are reasons for a switch that should benefit all. The AFC is confident that aligning the Asian calendar with much of the rest of the world, especially Europe, will make a difference financially, “for AFC Champions League and AFC Cup matches in terms of TV audiences and media interest with respect to the calendar structures of UEFA club competitions and European leagues.”

There are other changes that Saudi Arabia have pushed through. As reported by Arab News in November, the proposal from Riyadh to increase the number of foreign players that are allowed to play in the tournament has been accepted, only the precise format remains to be discussed.

At present, each team in the continental competition can register just four foreign players in its squad under the 3 plus 1 rule which means three imports can come from anywhere in the world and one from a fellow Asian nation. With 11 leagues around the continent allowing more imports for their domestic competition — including the Saudi Professional League, which has a full quota of seven — the AFC rule has increasingly become a point of contention.

“The current 3 plus 1 foreign player rule under which a club can field a maximum of four international players at any given point in time during a match is set to make way for a more augmented combination,” the AFC said.

“The proposed new combinations — 4 plus 2, 5 plus 1, or 5 plus 2 — have received wide support from both the AFC competitions committee and the AFC technical committee, with the decision imminent in early 2022 for implementation from 2023 onwards.” The changes will be confirmed early next year.

For major countries in Asian football, a revamped AFC Champions League should benefit all and help lift the tournament to the next level.

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle
Updated 01 December 2021

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle
  • A 1-1 draw against fellow relegation battlers Norwich had plenty of positives for Eddie Howe’s 10 men, but still fell short of the desperately needed win

NEWCASTLE: The unmentionable, what neither the fans nor the new owners dare think about, gets ever nearer for Newcastle United.

And, this time, it feels more self-inflicted than ever.

Eddie Howe’s black and white army — urged on continuously by a vociferous crowd from minute one to minute 90 (+6) at St. James’ Park — showed fight and commitment. Pain, passion, bodies on the line.

They had it all. They even scored, went into the lead — and had a VAR decision go in their favor.

Three points, though? That remains as elusive as ever.

And while they can explain away yet another two points dropped on home turf against a newly promoted struggler, mainly due to Ciaran Clark’s still inexplicable decision-making in his ninth-minute sending off, facts do not lie. This was yet another two points dropped. Yet another game ticked off without a win. Yet another opportunity gone begging.

Howe, in his assessment of the game-altering red, said: “It wasn’t the ideal start to the game, that’s for sure.

“I think that was a really difficult moment so early in the match to be down to 10 men,” he said. “In the cold light of day, I think Ciaran would have taken a different decision, but in that moment (it was) probably an impulse has just made him stop the striker.

“These things happen in the game. My immediate reaction was to not focus on that, it was to figure out very quickly what we had to do and try to find a solution to the problem,” Howe said. “Last thing I wanted to do was take Ryan Fraser off the pitch, but I felt I needed to do that for the team. Fede (Federico Fernandez) came on and I thought he was absolutely magnificent.

“Apologies to Ryan but Fede came in and made a big difference.”

Sadly, stepping into reality for a second here, Newcastle’s opportunities will soon run out. The “R” word has never been so glaringly in focus on Tyneside as it appears this year. Things didn’t get this bad in 2009, nor in 2016, the only two times the Magpies have been relegated from the English Premier League.

Never has a team, in Premier League history, risen from a 14-game winless start to the season to remain in the division a year later. United and Howe will have to write their own little piece of history this campaign if they are to break that record, which has stood for nearly 30 years.

Callum Wilson, United’s newly appointed captain, looked to have lifted the gloom on Tyneside — which now stretches to 15 games in all competitions — with his 61st-minute penalty, awarded after a handball was picked out by VAR. However, a Teemu Pukki volley, with about 12 minutes remaining, punctured what was building into a crescendo at SJP.

That goal, excellently taken by the flying Finn, was everything Irishman Clark deserved, but not one of the teammates he left out there, who to a man ran themselves into the ground for the cause.

Joelinton, Javier Manquillo and Jonjo Shelvey, so often criticized by fans, left their heart and soul out on the park. Fernandez, whose year has been massively impacted by a bout of COVID-19, was imperious.

“I thought the players responded magnificently. They gave everything, I can’t fault any of them for the effort and commitment they’ve given in the match,” said Howe.

“It was hugely disappointing we couldn’t get over the line and win the game, but I think we saw a really positive sign in terms of resilience and collective spirit, which we’re going to need for what lies ahead.”

Barrel loads of positives, yet only one more point on the board. Two less than was needed. Howe’s words, not mine.

The gap at the bottom of the table remains six points, but a late, late Leeds United win against Crystal Palace was another moment that felt like a nail in the coffin.

It now feels like a win against Burnley on Saturday or bust for Newcastle United’s season.

What remains in the afterlife for the Magpies is not set in stone. But their day of reckoning is upon them, it feels. And anything short of three points against the traditionally tough, physical, Sean Dyche-driven Clarets, who sit one place and two points better off than Newcastle ahead of their trip to Wolves on Wednesday night, would surely see a wave of realization sweep the banks of the Tyne, if it hasn’t already. Although a point would feel like an emotional stay of execution in many ways.

Relegation is the word no one wants to utter, but it is staring everyone square in the face.

The releasing of the Mike Ashley shackles, the arrival of the Public Investment Fund and Amanda Staveley with their belief, their understanding and their riches, the binning of the old regime’s neglectful, apologist Steve Bruce and the coming of a manager, Howe, with fresh ideas, impetus and vigor. It was all meant to see change. It was all meant to see a lift. None of it has. Improvement, yes. Three points, no.

And so United flounder. Their worst start in history and then some. Gone are the bounds of Mr. Sports Direct, but the remnants born of his derelict near-15 years in charge live on. This is PIF’s world we now live in, but it too is counting the cost of Ashley’s painful decade and a half. No amount of riches can seemingly save United now, not with January still a long month away.

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return
Updated 30 November 2021

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return
  • Grealish moved for a Premier League record £100 million in August
  • "Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he'll get that," said Gerrard

LONDON: Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard said on Tuesday Jack Grealish has earned the right to a warm reception when he returns to Villa Park for the first time as a Manchester City player this week.
Grealish moved for a Premier League record £100 million ($133 million) in August after making over 200 appearances for his boyhood club since making his debut aged 18.
The England international has been sidelined in recent weeks, but returned to training on Monday and could feature against his former club.
“Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he’ll get that,” said Gerrard, who has made a perfect start to his Premier League coaching career with two wins from two games.
“This is his club and it will be when his career is over, because he was here as a little boy and he has come through the academy.
“The club have benefited a lot from what Jack has given and we very much wish him well moving forward for the remainder of his career. Obviously not for 90 minutes tomorrow,” he added before Wednesday’s fixture.
Back-to-back wins over Brighton and Crystal Palace have propelled Villa seven points clear of the relegation zone.
However, Gerrard is well aware of the step up in class his side face when the champions come calling.
“The two wins have helped in terms of the feel-good factor around the place,” said the former Liverpool captain.
“But we’re aware that a real good side is coming into town and this will be a big acid test for us.”