Azeem Rafiq says Asian players at Yorkshire were called ‘elephant washers’

Azeem Rafiq had two stints at Yorkshire before being released in 2018

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Azeem Rafiq has told his lawyers he heard discriminatory “banter” at Yorkshire about Asian players that included calling them “elephant washers” and jokes about corner shops.

Rafiq’s evidence to his legal team was followed up by a meeting on Friday with the independent inquiry that is looking into allegations of institutionalised racism at Yorkshire, launched after he made a series of damaging allegations last summer.

Rafiq has also told his lawyers he raised concerns about a drinking culture within county cricket that makes Muslim players feel they have to drink alcohol to fit in.

It is an unusual move for a witness to an inquiry to go public with their evidence before meeting the panel, and the inquiry is expected to take some time before reaching any conclusions, with a lengthy witness interview process to go through. 

Yorkshire launched an inquiry into racism at the club after Rafiq revealed last summer he was close to suicide because of his experiences at the club in two stints before he was released in 2018. 

Rafiq said he lost “faith in humanity” when he was released by the club soon after his son was stillborn and was “dreading going to work” due to the racism he said he endured. He also claimed the pressure to fit in made him do things that as a Muslim he later regretted. 

Rafiq issued a five-page statement through his lawyers on Friday morning detailing the evidence he will give Yorkshire’s inquiry, putting more pressure on the club to take his case seriously.

“I have spoken out about the racism I faced because I don’t want kids to go through what I did. I want to see kids starting off their journey in cricket in a culture of acceptance and respect, where they are judged on their talent and not on their culture and identity. I hope that the investigation will result in meaningful change at the club and in the sport. I am grateful for the outpouring of support and words of encouragement I have received, in particular from parents who have shared their concerns about how their kids have been treated and who want to see change,” he said in the statement.

Evidence outlined by Rafiq includes concerns about access and development for young Asian players coming through the sport; a lack of facilities for Halal food for Muslim players when he was in the team; a drinking culture within cricket which led to "peer pressure to participate" and insensitivity towards Muslim players; racist comments, such as being called “elephant washers”, “P—” and telling non-white players to “go back to where you came from”.

He also describes ‘racist banter’ that included comments about his Pakistani heritage in front of team-mates and staff including “don’t talk to him, he’s a P—”, and references to corner shops and asking if his family owned them.

He said there were white players who referred to Rafiq and Asian players as “you lot” and comments such as “there are too many of you lot”. 

He also says there were incidents of racism from Yorkshire supporters including a comment “who are all those P— kids running around” and alcohol thrown on Asian supporters, which he claims were not investigated or properly addressed by the club.

“Having now disclosed Azeem’s evidence to the investigating panel, it remains to be seen how the investigation will progress,” said Asma Iqbal, Rafiq’s lawyer. “There were serious concerns about the initial handling of Azeem’s complaint and the people appointed to be involved in that process. After concerns were raised, people were removed from the process. We are now concerned to ensure that the investigation is fair, complies with due process and properly considers all of the facts to ensure natural justice prevails.”

Rafiq has told the inquiry he estimated there were only 60 days where “I have enjoyed playing cricket with the club where I have not had to endure abuse”. 

“The remainder of my time at the club has been filled with many dark moments where I have been left isolated, lonely, bullied and targeted because of my race. If my race had not played a part in this treatment, I would have witnessed other British white players treated in the same manner….I was singled out specifically because I was Asian. It was as if I was being reprimanded for my race by engaging with white players as if to remind me that it was not my place, that I did not belong with them.”

In a statement Yorkshire said the matters will be investigated “thoroughly and swiftly.”

“We have convened an independent panel to support the investigation and to publish recommendations on steps the club may need to take as a result of the investigation’s findings.  

"Racism has no place in our society or in cricket and we are hopeful that the outcome of this investigation and the recommendations of the panel will drive positive progress which can be shared by all,” said the club.