Racism at club left me close to suicide, says Muslim cricketer

25th Sep 2020

Harun Nasrullah

A Muslim cricketer has said years of deep-rooted racist abuse at Yorkshire County Cricket Club (CCC) left him close to suicide.

Azeem Rafiq, an ex-England Under 19s and Yorkshire captain walked away from the sport after his time with the county side.

Speaking to Sky News the 29-year-old told reported incidents of abuse to senior officials at his club before leaving.

“I know how close I was to committing suicide during my time at Yorkshire. At my worst, I was right on the edge, stood on my balcony. I would regularly come home from training or nights out with the team and cry. It was a very difficult time for me,” said former cricketer who moved to England from Pakistan when he was 10.

Recalling one of the earlier incidents in his club career, Rafiq said as he went on the field with three other fellow Asian teammates Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved. A senior player told the group “there’s too many of you lot, it’s something we need to have a word about,”

He added, “We would be on nights out, I would be speaking to someone and I’d have teammates coming over and saying, ‘don’t speak to him he’s a p***’.”

“Racism in cricket is deep-rooted. There were constant social events where I’d leave crying. Sometimes these things get disguised as banter but it’s always stuck with me.”

Since the age of 11, he has been involved in the cricket set-up in Yorkshire.
When playing for the county he said people would, “stereotype me and say ‘he stinks’”.

During a pre-season trip to Dubai, Rafiq says one of the players said, ‘don’t speak to him, he isn’t a sheikh, he hasn’t got any oil.’

In a statement, Yorkshire CCC Chair Roger Hutton said, the club “takes the reports very seriously.”

Rafiq said he wanted to speak out so that other players wouldn’t feel the pain he went through but believes racism in cricket isn’t just at the professional level.

He said, “This is happening at the grassroots level too. I’ve had so many messages from parents of kids and people who play club cricket talking about their experiences of racism and lack of opportunity to develop through the ranks. This needs to change straight away.”

Yorkshire CCC confirmed the allegations of racism at the club are being investigated by an independent law firm.

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