Yorkshire, Michael Vaughan and the ECB have made an unholy mess

PAUL NEWMAN: Yorkshire, Michael Vaughan and the ECB have made an unholy mess over the scandalous treatment of Azeem Rafiq as game is dragged through the gutter

  • English cricket has been rocked by the allegations of racism by Azeem Rafiq
  • Rafiq claimed he suffered from racism during his time at Yorkshire 
  • Yorkshire, Michael Vaughn and the ECB have all made an unholy mess 
  • The scandal threatens the foundations of England’s most illustrious counties  

It is difficult to envisage a happy ending now, or how the biggest crisis to ever envelop Yorkshire can be solved.

It is no exaggeration to say the scandal over the treatment of Azeem Rafiq threatens the very foundations of one of England’s most illustrious counties.

Just when it appears it cannot get any worse, along come more damning allegations involving significant figures in the club’s history and an unseemly squabble between Yorkshire and the ECB over who should be responsible for clearing up this squalid mess.

English cricket has been rocked by the allegations of racism by Azeem Rafiq at Yorkshire

It seemed we had reached a nadir when it emerged earlier this week that not only had Gary Ballance called his ‘friend’ Rafiq a ‘P**i’ but that it had been dismissed as banter by the sorry excuse of an independent inquiry that has now cost Yorkshire chair Roger Hutton his job.

But Friday was the most disturbing day yet in an affair that is gathering troubling momentum.

There are few bigger figures in English cricket than Michael Vaughan, captain of that fabled 2005 Ashes-winning team and now the face of BBC cricket as they attempt to attract a young and diverse audience to the game through coverage of the Hundred.

But Vaughan’s position is now seriously in jeopardy following Sportsmail’s revelation that Rana Naved has backed up Rafiq’s allegation that he said ‘Too many of you lot, we need to do something about it,’ to a group of Asian players at the club. Vaughan’s decision to get his retaliation in first by confirming the accusations against him — and vigorously denying them — on Thursday appears to have backfired, not least because he revealed the BBC were aware about his involvement last summer but did nothing.

Gary Ballance has been indefinitely suspended by England after admitting using racist language towards Rafiq when they were team-mates together at Yorkshire

Surely, then, their coverage of the Rafiq story was compromised and it is no surprise that the BBC are now said to be reviewing Vaughan’s position.

Then there is coach Andrew Gale who admitted yesterday using the word ‘yid’ to insult the then head of media at Leeds United when he was Yorkshire captain in 2010.

Three players in the spotlight so far and, it seems, several more to come.

It was little better when ECB chief executive Tom Harrison made a rare appearance above the parapet to address the governing body’s belated decision to get fully involved in the crisis once sponsors had started deserting Yorkshire in their droves.

The ECB made a decent start on Thursday when they stripped Yorkshire of international cricket until they get their house in order, as Sportsmail insisted they should.

But Harrison was distinctly uninspiring yesterday as he tried to convince us, not for the first time this year, of the ECB’s capacity for firm leadership. 

First, there seemed to be a blame game going on, with Hutton criticising the ECB’s lack of support for Yorkshire when Rafiq first made his claims of institutionalised racism and Harrison insisting it was not the ECB’s place then to get involved.

Michael Vaughan admitted he was named in the Azeem Rafiq report but denied racism claims

They sure as hell are involved now but Harrison first caused eyebrows to be raised on Friday when he confirmed he had not yet read the controversial report into the allegations — even though it has now been in the ECB’s possession for several days.

Harrison blamed a ‘regulatory process’ but surely, as the main man at the ECB, he would want to get his hands on that document as soon as it dropped on the ECB’s doormat at Lord’s. Otherwise how can he be sure of what he is dealing with?

Then there was Harrison’s admission he has had no recent contact with Rafiq — even though he admitted this week’s developments are ‘vindication’ for the struggles of a British Asian cricketer who has been doubted by some in the game far too long.

Harrison has had time, though, for his old friend Colin Graves, who he saw on Thursday when the former Yorkshire and ECB chairman was clearly pitching to get his old role at the helm of the embattled club back.

‘Colin is hugely passionate about cricket in Yorkshire and is probably the reason why the club are still in existence,’ said Harrison. ‘I have a very close relationship with Colin. I have a huge regard for him and he’s a close friend.’

What would not have been best for Yorkshire would be for them to have had the same chair, CEO and director of cricket as when many of the incidents involving Rafiq took place. What sort of look would that have been for the Asian community who Yorkshire somehow have to convince they really are not a racist club?

So thank goodness Yorkshire saw sense when they appointed Lord Kamlesh Patel of Bradford as director and chair in Hutton’s place — rather than bringing back Harrison’s chum, the divisive figure of Graves.

It is a start, albeit a small one.

Yet while Graves has been kept at bay for now, the two members of senior management at Yorkshire who even Hutton called for to go are still there.

Quite how chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon are still in place at Headingley beggars belief.

Perhaps their exits will come when they face the music in front of MPs at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s select committee hearing on November 16.

The ECB have now blocked Headingley from hosting international cricket next summer 

Before then, Yorkshire, under Lord Patel’s guidance, and particularly the ECB have to mean business. To be fair to Harrison, he seemed sincere when answering the accusation that the ECB had only got involved properly because sponsors have started walking away from the game and politicians have become involved.

‘I don’t think it was that,’ he said. ‘It was about the game being dragged through the mud and the disrepute as a result of the statement by Yorkshire last week that no action was going to be taken.

‘That was the moment we felt we were going to be dealing with something very different.

‘Not a breach of the regulations but a breach of the values we have in cricket and the unwritten contract we have with people in the game that the game will always be there for them.

‘It became clear very quickly we would have to take significant action because the message was that cricket was light on racism. There is no way on earth that can ever be the message. Racism has no place in this sport. Any form of discrimination has no place in this sport. We needed to take decisive action because Yorkshire have failed to do so. So we have.’

Not quite. They have made a start but there is lots more to be done. How about a points penalty and relegation to Division Two of the County Championship for Yorkshire? 

If not, the ECB will be accused of taking money more seriously than race because that is what they imposed on Durham for financial irregularities in 2017.

Maybe, with strong leadership, we will not see that unhappy ending after all. But there is a long way to go before Rafiq and everyone involved in the game can even start thinking about that.

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