“Vacancy: YCCC Chair” appeared rather starkly on the website of Yorkshire County Cricket Club on Feb. 10.
And behind this job advertisement lies a salutary tale with implications for cricket around the world.
It is less than 16 months ago that YCCC was engulfed in a crisis brought about by allegations of racism by one of its former players, Azeem Rafiq.
His testimony to the Parliamentary Select Committee of the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport on Nov. 16, 2021, sparked a chain of events which are still in train and unresolved.
How the matter attracted the attention of a parliamentary committee, with the hearings being live streamed nationally, lies in the procedures and governance adopted by YCCC and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the sport’s governing body.
It is understood that Rafiq made his initial complaints in 2017 to YCCC, formalizing them in 2018, a year in which his contract was not renewed.
Following the appointment of a YCCC chair with a reforming agenda in 2020, Rafiq’s issues were revealed in a media interview. This provoked the chair to appoint a law firm to conduct an independent review of the allegations.
Its report was submitted in August 2021 to YCCC. The club chose not to make it public or share it with the ECB. A summary was made available on Sept. 10 and a redacted copy to Rafiq on Oct. 13.
YCCC apologized to Rafiq, accepting that he had been the victim of “racial harassment and bullying,” but insisted there was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove institutionalized racism. An announcement in late October 2021, confirmed that no individuals would face disciplinary action.
This dead-batting was too much for those seeking to make a breakthrough.
YCCC’s chair was called to appear before the select committee, key sponsors withdrew support, the ECB suspended YCCC from hosting international matches, and YCCC’s chief executive officer resigned, as did the chair. Lord Kamlesh Patel, a member of the British House of Lords, took over a fragile situation.
Under Patel’s stewardship, significant developments occurred. On Dec. 3, 2021, 16 members of staff were removed from their posts at YCCC, including the director of cricket and head coach. This looked to be a draconian move.
The context to the move was a letter written in early October 2022 to YCCC by 14 staff members to indicate that they would not support any level of criticism or blame being attached to current members of staff. They made clear that blame should only attach to Rafiq, who they regarded as, “having a one-man mission to bring down the club.”
Furthermore, they added that Rafiq had demanded significant staff support while at the club, and “became an underperformer on the field, problematic in the dressing room, and a complete liability off the field.”
Battle lines had been drawn by those in denial of malfeasance and opposed to the types of reforms demanded by external forces.
No rapprochement with Rafiq was offered. Instead, a counterattack ensued in which Rafiq was portrayed as a troublemaker and received threats to himself and family. He now receives 24/7 security provided by the ECB.
A former Yorkshire chair, Robin Smith, has been openly critical of Patel. In March last year, he called for him to step down. This was shortly after the ECB had conditionally lifted its ban on YCCC hosting international matches, a major boost to its financial prospects.
In June, the ECB charged YCCC and seven individuals with breaching its directive 3.3. This relates to conduct which is improper, may be prejudicial to the interests of cricket, or which may bring the ECB, the game of cricket, or any cricketer into disrepute. It has taken until early March of this year for the cases to be heard by an independent panel of the ECB’s Cricket Discipline Commission.
In early February, YCCC admitted liability to four amended charges, including a failure to address systemic use of racist language. One of those charged has admitted using racist language, but five others have refused to engage with the CDC, citing a lack of faith in the process. It seems extraordinary that the commission does not have the power to order attendance, although the charges will be considered in absentia.
This weakness has provided opportunities for criticism of the ECB’s overall stance, which is that YCCC’s handling of Rafiq’s case was unacceptable and causing serious damage to the game’s reputation.
Although former players have admitted to the use of a derogatory racist word in relation to Rafiq and referring to Asians as “you lot,” they believed that this constituted banter rather than racism.
During a follow-up hearing of the DCMS committee on Dec. 13, 2022, Rafiq suggested that the Yorkshire Post had carried out a “campaign to discredit and intimidate” him. This was vehemently rebuffed by the newspaper’s editors, who regarded the accusation as “scurrilous,” and noted that they had given voice to others who were voiceless, including the staff sacked by YCCC.
In early March this year, the paper reported on YCCC’s accounts for the year ended Dec. 3, 2022.
A pre-tax loss of £2.2 million ($2.6 million) was incurred, of which £1.6 million related to remaining settlement payments, legal fees, and governance costs.
YCCC’s perilous financial position jeopardizes payment of some £3 million due to be made to the Graves Family Trust later this year. Colin Graves is a former chair of both YCCC and the ECB, spanning 2002, when he rescued YCCC, to 2020. Currently, YCCC’s debt to the trusts stands at £15 million.
Patel will stand down at March’s annual general meeting, criticized for being the first chair to receive remuneration. Graves has made public his willingness to be chair, for which he wants no financial reward. No doubt, this sits well with many YCCC members, who see this as a perfect solution. Others, especially externally, see the prospect differently.
The Rafiq case has been turned into one about YCCC’s survival, rather than being a catalyst to tackle racism.
In May, in conjunction with cricket journalist, George Dobell, a book will be published about Rafiq’s experiences. It will also draw upon similar experiences of people from other walks of life, keen to have a conversation about an issue that has proved so troublesome for YCCC and its leadership.