Racism slur hits cricket in England | Sunday Observer

Racism slur hits cricket in England

21 November, 2021
Azeem Rafiq
Azeem Rafiq

Azeem Rafiq said it was his “dream” to play for England, but rather than runs and wickets it is his words that may end up having a lasting effect on the national team.

Rafiq’s emotional and extraordinary testimony to a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee on Tuesday was the moment that the Yorkshire racism scandal crashed into the England dressing room.

As details dripped out, England players from the past were implicated or named, but there was still some distance between the national side and the unfolding shambles at Headingley.

Firstly, Adil Rashid, an influential and indispensable member of the England white-ball set-up, corroborated one of Rafiq’s claims.

Then Rafiq himself, giving evidence on a seismic day for cricket in this country, peeled back the curtain to reveal what has gone on when some of the finest players in the land were behind closed doors.

Claims that Gary Ballance, Rafiq’s former team-mate at Yorkshire, used ‘Kevin’ to describe a person of colour had previously been leaked into the public domain.

At the DCMS, Rafiq went further, alleging the use of the term was so commonplace that Ballance used it in the England dressing room during his four-year international career.

“Kevin was something that Gary used to describe everyone of colour,” said Rafiq. “And that was an open secret within the England dressing room. It was used in a derogatory manner.”

According to Rafiq, former England batter Alex Hales even named his dog ‘Kevin’ as an in-joke.

“Gary and Alex Hales got really close when they played for England together, that’s my understanding,” he said. “Alex went on to name his dog Kevin because he was black. It’s disgusting how much of a joke it was.”

Hales has since “categorically and absolutely” denied there was any racial connotation to the name given to his dog.

Ballance being at the centre of the Rafiq story is uncomfortable for England Test captain Joe Root.

The two have been close throughout their career with club and country - no one played alongside Ballance more often for England than Root.

Root has said he never witnessed incidents of racism at Yorkshire, a statement that “hurt” Rafiq.

“To be clear, Root is a good man,” said Rafiq. “He’s never engaged in racist language.”

However, Rafiq added that Root had been Ballance’s housemate and, before he became an England player, had been “involved in a lot of those socialising nights out” when a racist term about Rafiq’s Pakistani heritage was used towards him.

“He might not remember it, but it just shows how normal it was in that environment in that institution that a man like him doesn’t see it for what it is,” said Rafiq.

“It’s not going to affect Joe, it’s something I remember every day. But I don’t expect Joe to.”

Root has done much to guide England’s stance on inclusion, tolerance and showing cricket can be for everyone. Growing into his role as captain, Root has had to take a lead on these difficult issues. (BBC Sport)