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Delayed cricket club investigation risks “legitimising racism”, says lawyer
25/02/2021
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The lawyer of a professional cricketer has hit out at “tone-deaf” delays to an internal investigation that risks “legitimising racism” at their client’s former employer.

Last August, all-rounder Azeem Rafiq spoke out against his treatment by Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC). Rafiq said the club “ignored” reports of racist behaviour directed towards him resulting in his “lost faith in humanity”.

“I know how close I was to committing suicide during my time at Yorkshire,” he told ESPNcricinfo. "I was living my family's dream as a professional cricketer, but inside I was dying. I was dreading going to work. I was in pain every day.”

Following the interview, YCCC chairman Roger Hutton admitted “change was needed… especially in terms of racial inclusivity” and announced an investigation into Rafiq’s allegations of “institutional racism” at the club.

The club commissioned Squire Patton Boggs to investigate the allegations, with the firm expected to provide its findings to an independent panel, chaired by Dr Samir Pathak, by December 2020. However, the firm’s report and independent panel’s recommendations have since been delayed.

The continued delays create a lack of faith in the entire process

Rafiq, a former England under-19 captain who played for Yorkshire for two spells between 2008 and 2018, subsequently brought an employment tribunal claim against the club for direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race, as well as victimisation.

The next tribunal hearing is scheduled for 16 and 17 June; however, lawyers for Rafiq said the continued delays to the report mean they have little faith its findings will be published by May.

“We want to see a thorough investigation, which is why we accepted that this inquiry would take longer than initially suggested,” said Asma Iqbal, a partner at Chadwick Lawrence representing Rafiq. “The continued delays, however, create a lack of faith in the entire process and means trust in the sport’s ability to clean up its act is being seriously undermined.

“At best, the delay is tone-deaf when former players, coaches, and umpires are bravely coming forward about their dreadful experiences,” she continued. “At worst, the delay shows fear of the investigation’s possible findings and the impact they might have on the employment tribunal. Failure to act quickly and decisively only risks legitimising racism.”

Iqbal urged the club and Squire Patton Boggs to complete its investigation by April at the latest, giving all sides time to review the findings ahead of the employment tribunal hearing.

“That will have been seven months, which is far more than enough time to produce a thorough and conclusive report,” added Iqbal. “The longer this is delayed, the longer we have to wait for the reforms YCCC so badly needs if it is to become an inclusive, progressive club.”

In a statement to IEL, a spokesperson for the club said: “Far from ‘legitimising racism’ this is an extremely important investigation, not just for Yorkshire County Cricket Club but for the game of cricket and for sport more widely.

“We have always acknowledged that this has often been a difficult process for those involved and the investigation team were clear that witnesses be given the time and space to speak about their experiences fully and that they should not feel the pressure of a constrained time limit.

“Azeem has raised an important issue to bring about meaningful change, improve diversity, and stamp out racism in sport and the investigation’s recommendations will form an important part of that process.” 

The club said it expected the investigation’s findings will be delivered before the next stage of the tribunal but it would be inappropriate to try to tailor its timing to fit with tribunal proceedings.