After charges against him of bringing the game into disrepute were dismissed on Friday, Michael Vaughan said in what was generally a well-judged statement that “there are no winners in this process”. To say that you can only be white, and never have experienced the kind of discrimination that made the process necessary.
So let’s be clear: the ECB’s Cricket Discipline Commission vindicated Azeem Rafiq. Having experienced racism at Yorkshire, having found the proper channels blocked when he tried to act, having had his life turned upside down after being forced to go public, he will have wanted, and deserves, for that to be recognised. The panel’s verdict absolutely did establish winners and losers, which is what makes this moment so powerful.
It was clearly a difficult hearing. When two people say they have different recollections of a conversation that took place many years ago, facts become very hard to establish. I’m not convinced of the merit of repeating the process with other historical allegations, and for me the conclusion has got to be: we draw a line now and say, from this moment there is no excuse.
What has happened since has turned his life upside down, and having gone through that process he will have wanted to feel vindicated. Even if the the Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) did not conclude that every charge was proven, undoubtedly he was.
But this was clearly a difficult hearing. When two people say they have different recollections of a conversation that took place many years ago, facts become very hard to establish. I’m not convinced of the merit of repeating the process with other historical allegations, and for me the conclusion has got to be that we draw a line now and say: from this moment there is no excuse.
Everybody now knows where they stand. There is an understanding of what is and what is not acceptable, and I hope that what I have seen in years gone by passed off as banter is now recognised as what it is. I hope that non-white people are no longer put in a situation whereby they feel they have two options: either to laugh off the use of language they consider unacceptable, or to react to it and become marked as a troublemaker.
There must also be a proper mechanism for handling reports of racism. Watching what Rafiq has gone through over the last few years, the attention that has been given to his family, his life, his behaviour as a young man, can only have made it more daunting for other victims of racism considering coming forward. That’s why it must be the senior people within organisations – captains, head coaches, directors of cricket, CEOs – who take the lead in establishing a positive culture.
Rafiq was the victim here, but there should also be sympathy for the other individuals involved. I am a former teammate of Matthew Hoggard, and I can only imagine the massive impact this case must have had on his life, and on the lives of all those charged. People can and do make ignorant comments, and that doing so does not necessarily make them bad people. Hopefully they will all have learned a huge amount through this process, and be allowed to move on and not be tarred by it.
Those who did not take part in the hearing were judged harshly by the CDC panel for that decision, which was not necessarily fair. Vaughan, a big-name player who has had a successful second career in the media, might have been able to mount a costly defence but for some of those charged it might have been impossible to do so – and I can understand if some in Yorkshire felt that the process was genuinely flawed.
I was reminded of Kunwar Bansil, the British Asian who was one of 16 people sacked by Yorkshire last year, having worked at the club for eight years as physio, and who said he “had nothing but fantastic experiences and opportunities”. He also said his attempts to contribute to the DCMS hearings into the club were rejected.
This was a hearing about the use of racist language, but that is just one part of the problem and probably the easiest to recognise. The ECB has finally come to accept that the lack of non-white players moving from age-group cricket into the professional game is an issue. Middlesex have an ambitious diversity and inclusion action plan and now have five non-white board members, but at last count something like 30% of people playing in age-group teams were non-white, and only around 3% of those transitioning into the professional game.
Certain pockets of the country have large, highly engaged non-white populations that still have little involvement with their counties. For as long as a county’s coaching staff is all-white, their cricket committee is all-white, the director of cricket is white, this will continue to happen.
But I’d like to think change has begun. We would all love to be in a situation where people are judged only on merit, and if that is still distant it is also much closer than it was nearly three years ago when Rafiq first raised his voice.