I am proudly Yorkshire born and bred, and I have experienced racial slurs in the school yard, and on the streets of my hometown.
I stand in solidarity with Azeem Rafiq.
Growing up in a mainly white area of Bradford, I was regularly called the P-word and went about my childhood feeling anxious about entering majority white spaces. I was stared at, and often heard overt comments (as we now know as ‘microaggressions’) from a mixture of strangers, school mates, and even teachers on occasion.
Looking back, I wish I had the vocabulary and confidence to call this out or challenge people I trusted when action was not taken.
These experiences returned to the forefront of my mind this week when news broke in the UK media about the experiences of Azeem Rafiq, a 30-year-old former cricketer, who says he was left close to suicide after detailing racism encountered at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Yorkshire are the most successful team in English cricketing history and have now been accused of being institutionally racist, after the repeated the use of racial slurs were allegedly dismissed as "in the spirit of friendly banter".
The handling of the concerns raised by Rafiq are worrying and have highlighted major issues in the organisation’s compliance with, and the understanding of equality law. In December 2020 Rafiq filed a legal claim against the county under the Equality Act, claiming he suffered "direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race, as well as victimisation and detriment as a result of his efforts to address racism at the club".
He has fought for significant action to be taken and had to deal with the subsequent distress caused when Yorkshire said that no disciplinary action would be taken against any of their employees - despite an investigation finding he was a victim of "racial harassment and bullying".
Although there is lots to be proud of in Yorkshire, the victimisation of Rafiq, and the subsequent handling of his experiences is not one of them.
Many high-profile kit suppliers and sponsors have either ended partnerships or said they would not continue deals, and Yorkshire have been suspended from hosting international matches until they can demonstrate increased standards.
The prevalence of racism and the inadequate structures to deal with them must be given significant focus and attention before moving the conversation on to what we are getting right, or the overall benefits of the sport. The harm, trauma, and long-term effects of bullying and harassment on the victim are clear and must not been downplayed by organisations.
We must demand that lessons are learned about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion on individuals and organisations, and ask ourselves if our own organisations have robust strategies to support people that are brave enough to come forward, or if they need transformational change.