Azeem Rafiq: ‘The ECB needs a reset of its morals and values – simple as that’ | Azeem Rafiq

“I am exhausted,” Azeem Rafiq says quietly as, simply earlier than eight within the morning, he takes a deep breath and straightens his black tie. The 30-year-old former cricketer, who uncovered the institutional racism on the coronary heart of a sport he as soon as cherished, is wearing a sombre black go well with. His temper is as composed and candid as it was when he gave his harrowing testimony in parliament to the DCMS choose committee two months in the past. “It’s a burden I’ve been carrying a very very long time,” Rafiq says. “So to get all that off my chest to the choose committee was a large aid. I slept properly that night time. However since then it’s been a whirlwind.”

Rafiq feels below menace, unsettled by warnings that he and his household are in peril. There are additionally sustained makes an attempt to undermine him and Rafiq is satisfied some highly effective forces are intent on muzzling him.

However right here he’s, on a brilliant but icy morning in London, prepared for a 90-minute interview which uncovers his household’s horrifying departure from Karachi in 2001 and takes us via distressing years of prejudice to a seventh-floor balcony in Barnsley the place he twice got here near ending his life. On the identical time, with a sense of the cricketing pleasure he has since misplaced, Rafiq displays on his previous achievements whereas contemplating how England’s newest Ashes debacle mirrors a damaged sport on this nation.


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Relatively than a reset for Check cricket, Rafiq concludes that the ECB needs “a reset of their morals and values – simple as that.”

In November, after articulating the racism he had endured in Yorkshire, there was such approval for his uncooked honesty that many individuals believed English cricket had reached a watershed. Rafiq shakes his head now. “I don’t even know the phrase for it. Astonishing, possibly, as a result of I nonetheless don’t suppose English cricket understands it has a drawback. I don’t suppose it will get it and even needs to get it. I discover that extremely worrying.

“I believe Yorkshire will get it now, however they’ve been left with no alternative. There’s been a actual try to do the best factor and perceive racism in Yorkshire. When you make an apology, you possibly can truly do one thing about it. However I’ve actual considerations in regards to the different counties and the ECB.”

Since Rafiq’s testimony was lastly heard, after years when he had been ignored or shunned as a troublemaker, Yorkshire have changed their chairman, director of cricket, head coach and captain. Rafiq believes Lord Kamlesh Patel, the brand new chairman, is main the county in a recent path. Elsewhere, he says: “Individuals are scared to place their head above the parapet. However you possibly can’t inform me this isn’t a problem up and down the nation. The Division for Digital, Tradition, Media & Sport report stated it as properly final week and they’re utilizing heaps of proof.

“Privately, many individuals wish to converse up. Publicly, I’m unsure what number of will come ahead now. Round 50 cricketers had been going to talk out the week after my DCMS [testimony]. However how I used to be attacked, and different issues behind the scenes, have been outrageous. Heaps of individuals received scared.”

Azeem Rafiq celebrates a wicket in 2012 with his Yorkshire teammates Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow
Azeem Rafiq (centre) celebrates a wicket in 2012 along with his Yorkshire teammates Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow {Photograph}: Alex Whitehead/ Shutterstock

Rafiq is sporting a go well with as a result of the Jewish group have invited him to be one of a choose group to mild a candle at a ceremony commemorating the seventy fifth anniversary of Anne Frank’s diary. It’s one other instance of how Rafiq’s apologies have been accepted by Jewish leaders following the emergence of antisemitic messages he had posted on the age of 19.

We’ll talk about his embarrassment later however Rafiq needs to make an necessary distinction now. “Simply to be clear, I don’t see the [exposure of his] antisemitic stuff to be an assault on me. That’s what I did and I deserve every part that comes my approach. However heaps of individuals received scared and they didn’t need the effort of speaking in public. I don’t blame them.

“There’ve been considerations round bodily security for myself and my household. It’s been occurring a whereas and the final feeling from the authorities is that it’s one thing I must keep watch over. But it surely’s not good, all the time trying over your shoulder and worrying about your loved ones and your self – for speaking about a topic that needs checking out. My household are actually fearful for me and it impacts everybody when I’m careworn.”

Has Rafiq feared for his security? “Yeah, positively. There was a time in December after I was actually fearful. I felt like I used to be being adopted and it’s actually scary.”

Rafiq and his spouse opened a fish and chip store in Barnsley on 30 October and, as he says: “I’d labored actually onerous for a yr and a half to get that enterprise up and working, and now I really feel scared to go in there as a result of of the threats and being a very straightforward goal within the city centre. We had a couple of situations on the store and I used to be there when a gentleman got here in and talked about having a bomb he would use to blow the place up. I’m now conscious that every part is reported to the police as a result of the authorities shield us.”

Does Rafiq know who’s attempting to intimidate him? “Yeah, I’m conscious of the people and the establishments. I’m struggling on a day by day foundation however I would like them to know I’ll hold combating.”


A way of unease is acquainted to Rafiq. Once I ask him if we might return to 2001, and the yr when he and his household left Pakistan, he says that he has not spoken earlier than in public about these days. It feels proper to take action now. “We had a very good life in Karachi. My dad was a property developer however his enterprise companion received kidnapped and burnt and that’s why we needed to transfer to the UK. After we discovered him it was extremely disturbing. He was a 6ft tall man and all that was left of him was a pile of ashes the dimensions of this desk.”

Rafiq factors to a small espresso desk. “Inside our tradition,” he provides, “strain comes with me being the eldest son. My dad knew if something was going to occur, it could occur to me as properly. It was actually tough as a child [of 10] to observe my father endure.

“We moved to England in July 2001 and two months later 9/11 occurred. I keep in mind that day clearly. My dad had a actually massive beard and when he left our home it was apparent everybody was him. It was scary, the seems to be he was getting. All of a sudden, life felt very totally different. After a whereas Dad trimmed his beard. He felt he needed to for our security.

“Most Asian individuals will let you know they had been referred to as a terrorist. You had been instructed to only ignore it nevertheless it’s totally different for my technology. We’re not going to take this any longer. We’re going to face up for ourselves.”

Does that reminiscence hang-out Rafiq? “It actually does. Being referred to as a terrorist or the P phrase hurts. It’s incorrect. These phrases left a large mark on me. It’s psychological trauma.”

A minimum of cricket “actually did assist” Rafiq regulate to life in England. “I used to be excelling in cricket and it helped me get a little bit of standing, a little bit of price.”

Remarkably, 5 years after shifting from Karachi to Barnsley, Rafiq was England’s Below-15 captain. He was additionally taking part in males’s membership cricket and being brutalised by bigotry. One of his teammates, who had performed professionally for Yorkshire, “compelled drink down my throat” as they drove away from the ultimate membership sport that season. The one motive for such cruelty was the truth that Rafiq was a younger Muslim.

“It was hurtful,” he says. “I query myself now as as to if I ought to have complained. However as a 15-year-old, new to the nation, beginning to progress within the sport, what do you do when a skilled cricketer does that? You suppose: ‘Simply faux it by no means occurred.’ I didn’t inform my dad as a result of if he had identified I might by no means have been allowed to go to a cricket floor once more. Nobody aside from the individuals in that automotive knew what occurred. I joined Yorkshire’s academy after that. I needed to erase it from my reminiscence.”

Azeem Rafiq at the Anne Frank Trust candle-lighting ceremony in London on Thursday 20 January 2022
Azeem Rafiq at Thursday’s Anne Frank Belief candle-lighting ceremony in London. He has apologised to the Jewish group for antisemitic tweets he posted 11 years in the past. {Photograph}: Chris Jackson/PA

Rafiq was so gifted that in his second first-class sport for Yorkshire, aged 17, he hit a century. “It was a county championship sport in opposition to Worcestershire and we would have liked to keep away from the follow-on. I went in at No 9 and batted with Hoggy [Matthew Hoggard, the former England fast bowler who has since apologised to Rafiq for calling him “Raffa the Kaffir” and an “elephant washer” under that dreaded guise of banter] and cherished it. Their bowlers had been bouncing me and I ended up getting 100 off 91 balls, which was actually gratifying.”

He was quickly appointed captain of England Below-19s and led a aspect together with Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and James Vince. Rafiq took them to the Below-19 World Cup in New Zealand and he remembers Stokes hit “an unbelievable hundred” as they beat India. He then turned the primary Asian cricketer to captain Yorkshire as they went on a profitable run in T20 matches. “I used to be the captain of most groups I received chosen for,” he says. “I’m a large cricket badger. I studied the sport avidly and that helped me in phrases of techniques and managing the lads. I received a greater buzz out of profitable and the lads doing properly than my very own performances. The dream was to play for England and assist them turn into one of the best staff on the planet.”

It’s disconcerting to listen to Rafiq then describe a reminiscence of him sitting on the pavement outdoors a nightclub a few years later. He was crying helplessly after he had been racially abused by his teammates. “I’ve struggled with my psychological well being since 2013 and been on treatment since then. I nonetheless am now. I keep in mind a couple of situations, in 2013 and the winter of 2018, after I got here very near ending all of it. I used to be on the opposite aspect of the balcony and my flat’s on the seventh flooring. However I believed of the ache my mother and father and my spouse would endure if I took my very own life. I speak about it overtly as a result of, regardless that it’s uncooked, it’s necessary.”

Rafiq additionally remembers the loss of his son in 2018. Regardless of his spouse’s tough being pregnant, he was requested to journey to Durham for a sport. “It was the beginning of the one-day match and the yr earlier than I’d been the main wicket-taker for Yorkshire, taking virtually double the wickets of the subsequent bowler. So I believed I might play – solely to be instructed once we received there I used to be twelfth man. I did all my duties however I used to be irritated and couldn’t perceive why they’d compelled me to come back up. I didn’t converse to the coach or the captain.

“The following day we had a sport at Headingley. I used to be doing the warm-up when Martyn Moxon [the director of cricket] received the telephone name. He got here and instructed me my son was no extra. There was no heartbeat. I received within the automotive and on that journey I screamed and cried. I received to the hospital and it was actually tough, actually traumatic. It took 5 days for my spouse to get the [stillborn] child out. It was horrible watching her undergo it.”

Rafiq seems to be up. “The nurses had stated the newborn may very well be badly bruised. However once we held him the newborn appeared like he was sleeping. He appeared stunning. I then carried him from the hospital to the graveyard. We buried him the very subsequent morning and just one particular person from the membership got here. Alex Lees. I’d been at that membership because the age of 11 and simply Alex got here. That tells you every part you have to know.

“Then, on my first day again, Martyn received me in a room and actually ripped shreds off me for not speaking to the captain and coach on the day I used to be omitted. I used to be like: ‘That is sufficient.’”

Did anybody at Yorkshire console him for the loss of his son? Rafiq shakes his head. “They didn’t care in any respect.” He was quickly despatched an e-mail confirming his contract had not been renewed.

Rafiq had been hounded out of the sport by the point England gained the World Cup at Lord’s in 2019 along with his former teammates – Stokes, Root, and Buttler. “It nonetheless hurts. However I’m extremely grateful as a result of I’ve turn into the particular person I’m now. The trigger I’m combating for now means a hell of a lot extra to me than any World Cup I might have gained.”

He highlights the enduring points of racism throughout English cricket and society itself. “The ECB have filed over 4,000 [racial] complaints and 50 had been from Yorkshire. This isn’t an expertise distinctive to me or to skilled sports activities. I lately had a telephone name from a midwife in a hospital saying I had helped her. I’ve had telephone calls from workers at utility corporations, from media presenters and politicians. Folks from totally different fields have stated my story resonated and triggered them.”

Rafiq is much less satisfied he has triggered the ECB or its chief government Tom Harrison. “I’ve heard nothing since their [anti-racism] motion plan received introduced. I’ve had a personal dialog with Tom and I don’t know whether or not the counties will not be listening or whether or not the ECB don’t care. I believe it’s a mixture of each below Tom’s management. He needs to take some duty. I’m sick of the phrases and the paperwork. We have to see motion and we have to see it fast.”

What does he suppose of the truth that Harrison is because of take a share of a £2.1m bonus to be paid to ECB executives this yr? “It doesn’t sit properly, does it?”

Yorkshire president John Hampshire presents Azeem Rafiq with his county cap in August 2016
John Hampshire, Yorkshire’s president till his loss of life in 2017, presents Azeem Rafiq along with his county cap in August 2016. {Photograph}: Allan McKenzie/ Shutterstock

The Ashes, in the meantime, “was a tough watch” for Rafiq. “There’s one thing basically not proper with the ECB and their management. There’s received to be questions requested over some of the appointments from Ashley Giles [managing director of the England men’s team] down. It’s a merry-go-round, jobs for the boys.”

For Rafiq, England’s 4-0 drubbing in Australia is greater than symbolic of the mess off the sector. “They go hand in hand. It’s turn into such company fluff. If I used to be a broadcaster now I wouldn’t even do interviews as a result of it’s like listening to a robotic.”

He and Root have “exchanged messages” since his compelling parliamentary tackle. He has all the time appreciated the England captain but Root’s declare to not have heard any racial abuse at Yorkshire harm Rafiq. “It exhibits how even good individuals look the opposite approach on the subject of racism. Joe stated he was going to see me when he received again from Australia so I’m hoping he reaches out. If he does, I’m more than pleased to see him.”

Rafiq is at peace with Hoggard – one of solely two males, alongside the commentator David Lloyd, to apologise for his or her feedback. “Matthew referred to as me the morning after my first interview and I can’t thank him sufficient. He stated: ‘I’m actually sorry. I stated issues I shouldn’t have stated and they clearly harm you.’ That’s all I needed.”

When his personal appalling antisemitic messages from 11 years in the past had been uncovered in November, Rafiq “felt sick to my abdomen, I used to be so offended with myself as a result of there may be completely no excuse. However I’ve had such assist from the Jewish group. I apologised a number of occasions and left it to them as the sufferer on this scenario to determine what occurs. I received a name from one of the senior leaders of the Jewish group and he was very clear: ‘Don’t for a second suppose that they’re going to make use of us to derail your trigger. We’re with you.’ They’ve been good and I’ve tried to construct a bridge in my training.”

Rafiq admits, bashfully, “that I had completely no concept in regards to the Holocaust till final month. I met Lily, a Holocaust survivor, and Ruth, a Kindertransport survivor. It was so disturbing to listen to what occurred. I can’t thank them sufficient for serving to educate me. And to now get an invitation to be a candle lighter at an iconic occasion just like the Anne Frank lunch exhibits that in case you settle for your mistake and apologise to individuals then that relationship can flip into such a constructive.

I’ve received a son and a daughter aged two and one. I’m positively going to coach them to simply accept all races and religions.”

Azeem Rafiq in London
Azeem Rafiq in London. ‘The extra I see denial the extra decided I turn into.’ {Photograph}: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Rafiq can also be intent on bolstering himself for he usually feels alone in his battle in opposition to those that would like him to stay silent. “There are occasions after I ask myself: ‘How rather more can I take?’ I’m solely 30 and I really feel like I shouldn’t have seen and gone via a lot. I’m battling every single day and I simply hope it doesn’t destroy my life shifting ahead.”

Earlier than we step outdoors into the sunshine of Hyde Park, Rafiq sounds as defiant as he’s wistful. “I want I used to be a bit extra regular,” he says with a smile. “However they’re up in opposition to somebody that doesn’t give a rattling in hell about himself. My household are unbelievable. At occasions they’ve needed me to cease however they realize it’s not going to occur. When there have been all these fears about my security final month, I used to be finished. I believed: ‘I can’t do that any extra.’ However I get a second wind, a third wind, a fourth wind, a fifth wind and I simply hold going.”

We stroll via an echoing tunnel and then, all of the sudden, we attain the park. I really feel his braveness and resolve. “The extra I see denial the extra decided I turn into,” Rafiq says as we hold strolling within the tender mild of a midwinter morning. “That can by no means change.”

Within the UK and Eire, Samaritans might be contacted on 116 123 or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected]. You may contact the UK psychological well being charity Thoughts by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting In Australia, the disaster assist service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Within the US, the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Different worldwide helplines might be discovered at

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