Michael Vaughan verdict distracts from Azeem Rafiq’s vindication: Yorkshire was rotten to the core

·4 min read

In the midst of his testimony to MPs at the digital, culture, media and sport select committee in 2021, Azeem Rafiq uttered a prescient line. Referring to Michael Vaughan after the former England captain had been implicated in the Yorkshire Cricket scandal, Rafiq warned: “It’s important we don’t make it all about Michael.”

Throughout this period Rafiq’s stance has been consistent: this is not about individuals but about a broken system, a deeply flawed cricket club and an entire sport affected by institutional racism. Hunting down culprits and hanging them in the town square was only going to divert eyes from the “structural problem” that needs tackling.

But as Rafiq anticipated, the story has naturally gravitated towards Vaughan as the most famous figure involved. So it was not entirely unexpected on Friday that the focus of media headlines and social media reaction to the Cricket Discipline Commission’s findings honed in on the allegation against Vaughan which was not upheld, after he was accused of making a racist remark towards four Asian teammates at Yorkshire. “The panel is not satisfied on the balance of probabilities that these words were spoken by MV at the time and in the specific circumstances alleged,” the CDC’s report said.

And for many, that was that. Vaughan cleared; Rafiq in the mud.

“So ‘on balance of probabilities’ Azeem Rafiq lied?,” read one tweet by a man describing himself as a “British Unionist” with a dislike for “gesture politics, virtue-signalling wokes and race-baiters”, whose most recent tweet encouraged asylum seekers to “piss off home”. His post on Rafiq had garnered nearly 400 likes in five hours and had been seen 12,000 times.

But this accusation was wrong. Rafiq previously admitted a discrepancy in his various accounts of exactly what he claimed Vaughan had said in a T20 match at Trent Bridge 14 years ago, but there is no suggestion in the CDC’s report that he lied.

Far from it, Rafiq could feel vindicated because, while the attention was on Vaughan’s reprieve, it seemed to slide by that a raft of charges against other defendants were upheld.

The former Yorkshire players Tim Bresnan, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Gale, Richard Pyrah and John Blain were all found to have used racial slurs.

They have 14 days to appeal against the decisions and will be sanctioned at a later date. Rafiq broke a long silence and suffered because of it so that he could tell the world about a rotten core at the heart of cricket, and the CDC’s judgement agreed.

The CDC concluded that its findings “do not in any way undermine” Rafiq’s wide evidence, in which he has repeatedly called out deep-rooted racism in English cricket.

Michael Vaughan ‘burst into tears’ after being cleared of racism (PA)
Michael Vaughan ‘burst into tears’ after being cleared of racism (PA)

Yet the reaction to Friday’s news gave the tiniest window into the abuse Rafiq has faced throughout this process, abuse that has forced him and his family to leave the country. Some made threats on his life and one man defecated in his garden.

Rafiq has never claimed to be perfect, and the report that revealed his anti-Semitic message to a friend a decade earlier sparked increased vitriol. He apologised to the Jewish community and promised to learn about Jewish history. He visited a synagogue where he met Lily Ebert, a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor. He participated in the March of the Living, an annual walk to Auschwitz. And while Rafiq educated himself, the world seemed to move on from the issue of racism in cricket.

The game now awaits the results of an independent commission for equity in the game, which is expected to release its findings in the coming weeks. It was set up by the ECB in the aftermath of the Yorkshire Cricket scandal to review issues of race, class and gender within the sport and make recommendations for improving inclusivity.

But in the meantime, it is worth remembering that last month Yorkshire CCC admitted it failed to address the systemic use of racist or discriminatory language over a long period of time, and failed to take adequate action when complaints were made. Racist language was part of the culture, and Rafiq never wanted individuals to distract from that central, disturbing point.