Cricket star tells rabbi he expected ‘a lot more to happen’ over racism scandal

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Cricket star tells rabbi he expected ‘a lot more to happen’ over racism scandal

Speaking at Hope Not Hate event ex-Yorkshire star Azeem Rafiq tells Rabbi Harvey Belovski he 'can't thank Jewish community enough' for their support after apologising for historic antisemitism

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Rabbi Harvey Belovski (centre) chats to Azeem Rafiq (left), with Hope Not Hate's Owen Jones, (right).
Rabbi Harvey Belovski (centre) chats to Azeem Rafiq (left), with Hope Not Hate's Owen Jones, (right).

Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq has told a leading rabbi that 20 months after he first raised allegations of racism, harassment and bullying in the sport he would have “expected a lot more things to happen.”

Speaking to Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski at anti-racism charity Hope Not Hate‘s gala dinner event in central London, the spin bowler added:”Our sports men and women, especially men, have got to stop living in a bubble.”

Turning his attention to English cricket’s authorities he said:”If I’m being very honest, since DCMS, (his appearance before Westminster’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport last November), I would have expected a lot more things to happen, a lot more tangible things being put in place by the game of cricket.

“But unfortunately, I can’t sit here and say that that has happened.

“I want the game and ECB (English Cricket Board) to show a little bit more leadership and start to put some tangible actions in place.”

Rafiq,31, also spoke openly about the revelation that he had himself engaged in antisemitic conversations in Facebook messages with another cricketer, when he was 19.

Last November Rafiq issued an unreserved apology for the messages, saying that he was “ashamed” and “a different person today.”

In his Q&A session with Rabbi Belovski at a Westminster venue on Monday night, Rafiq said after the antisemitic messages emerged he told his advisors:”It will be difficult for me, but I will apologise without any excuse.”

He said the saga helped bring him closer to another minority group. He added:”And for me, the apology wasn’t the end. 

“I wanted to make sure that it went further. I wanted to find out why from the start, I made the comments, but then reach out to not just the leaders of the Jewish community and learn more about a community that I’ve not had the pleasure of spending much time with.

“Luckily since then … I can’t thank the Jewish community enough for the love and support that I’ve received.”

He said he was honoured to be asked to be a candle holder at an event marking the 75th anniversary of Anne Frank’s diaries being published.

Rafiq described at visit to Auschwitz during March of the Living as “the most difficult few days I think I’ve ever been through.”

He added:”I could not understand how these buildings have been built purposely to murder people and where the rest of the world was, is something still, I can’t really stand that this continues to happen.”

Hope Not Hate CEO Nick Lowles addresses guests at gala dinner

On changes needed to the game of cricket the former Yorkshire captain said there needed to be an “educational element” when recruiting people into the sport “from the bottom” to ensure that “as we organically people get into the game, they’re a lot more understanding of each other.”

He added:”We’ve got to actively create opportunities for everyone.”

Rafiq said the problem of racism in cricket was still widespread.

“I get phone calls on a regular basis, whether that be from individuals or teams up and down the country,” he told the Golders Green Synagogue rabbi.

“It’s a really sad place. 

“But I think cricket for a very long time was pretty much a free pass. 

“And that’s not just from a race point of view. I think the behaviour and the cultures around professional sport is something we’ve got to start tackling. 

“Our sports men and women, especially men, have got to stop living in a bubble.

“And I think that stems from education, but initially, I think there’s got to be some acceptance before we start moving forward.”

Rafiq praised the role Hope Not Hate had played by supporting him during the months after he blew the lid on racism at Yorkshire in September 2020.

He said:”It was a very difficult time… where I was fighting and fighting and felt very lonely on my own.”

In September 2020, Rafiq made accusations of racism and bullying at Yorkshire.

An independent report found that a number of his accusations were true and the case became a major media story in the United Kingdom.

It led to a number of resignations at the club and was the subject of investigations by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the British parliament.

Earlier this month the ECB charged Yorkshire Country Cricket Club and seven unnamed people following an investigation regarding allegations of racist abuse.

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