Azeem Rafiq
Azeem Rafiq

Thank you to my friend, Navendu Mishra MP, for having secured an urgent question on the subject of racism in cricket. I am afraid I unable to be there today, but I wanted to share what I would have said about a sport that I love and an issue close to my heart, had I been able to be in the Chamber.

Britain exported cricket around the world, creating cricketing powerhouses in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, as well as in the Caribbean. In the 1960s and 70s, migrants from South Asia brought their enthusiasm for cricket back to this country. Growing up in a small Lancashire mill town, I remember the incredible joy cricket brought to my friends and I in what were uneasy times. Cricket became part of many British Asian’s identity, and it unites us across sometimes difficult divides. Grassroots cricket is still dominated by British Asians, and if you take a trip to Greenbank Playing Field or Crowcroft Park in my own constituency on a summer afternoon, and you will find hundreds of young people getting involved.

This is a story that can be told across the North of England. Family and friends from across the Pennines in Bradford, Batley, and Huddersfield could tell you similar stories. Yorkshire’s South Asian community fell in love with their club. Many of us were shocked to hear that Yorkshire CCC was happy to write-off overt racism as nothing more than “banter”. But for Yorkshire’s Asian fans, it is acutely painful to hear from the club that you love, that you do not matter.

Let’s the clear, the p-word is not “banter”. It is not a shorthand for Pakistani people. It is a term loaded with violence and hatred. What happened to Azeem Rafiq – and I’ve no doubt other players at Yorkshire – is unacceptable and so is the Club’s response. Azeem left Headingly not only with a broken bat but with a broken heart and mind. It is right the Chair has now resigned, and I welcome the appointment of Lord Kamlesh Patel. I know Kamlesh loves cricket – as a player and a fan – and loves Yorkshire, and I wish him well in turning round the Club. But there is much work to do.

And while Yorkshire’s problem has been in the public eye, we should not see this simply as a problem at Yorkshire – I fear cricket across the UK is going backwards, not forwards. While other sports have taken the initiative to improve their diversity and support players subject to racist abuse, there are shockingly 75% fewer Black players in county cricket since 1990. In the England Ashes 2021/22 tour squad named in October, there is just one British Asian and no Black players. The elite sport is posher and whiter than it has been in decades.

People of colour – British Asians and those of Afro-Caribbean descent – make up the bedrock of British grassroots cricket. It is in inner-city parks, not village greens, where Britain’s cricket talent is developing. It’s time the ECB and the county clubs face up to the very real problem of racism and segregation in cricket. Last week, I met with Tom Harrison, Chief Executive of the ECB, and I was encouraged with what I heard. However, talk must be backed up with action from the Board.

The joy of sport should bring us all together, rather than divide us.

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