BARNSLEY man Azeem Rafiq has ‘some sort of hope that we will see change now’ following a damning government report into racism in English cricket.
The report from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee was released at the weekend and said there was ‘deep-seated’ racism in the sport, while threatening to withdraw public funding from the ECB if that was not addressed.
That followed a hearing at Westminster in November in which Rafiq detailed the racist abuse he suffered at Yorkshire CCC as a player.
His revelations have led to various investigations as well as the resignations of Yorkshire’s chairman and chief executive and the sacking of 16 staff members including Martyn Moxon, from Stairfoot, who was director of cricket.
Representatives from the ECB, Yorkshire and other counties are due to meet the DCMS on Tuesday to show what progress they have made.
The Gawber man, 30, told the Chronicle: “I am encouraged by how seriously the committee has taken the issue. Clearly cricket as a game didn’t want to admit it or accept it but the committee have give me some sort of hope that we will see change now.
“One recommendation I am really happy about is that the ECB will be answerable to the committee on a quarterly basis which means it is just more than a piece of paper.
“We have seen action plans before and nothing happens, but all I know is I won’t back down. I am incredibly passionate about it.
“It would be naive of me to say it will definitely change this time but the committee is holding a financial threat over the game which they hopefully won’t take lightly.”
Rafiq himself had to apologise last year after anti-Semitic social media messages he sent a decade ago were made public. He has since begun working with Jewish community and has been invited to be a ‘candle lighter’ at Jewish charity the Anne Frank Trust’s annual lunch.
“Some of the things that have been thrown at me behind the scenes have been ridiculous and outrageous.
“But the one I am very angry with myself about, and ashamed of, is the anti-Semitic messages.
“It’s something I regret massively and I have tried to apologise to the Jewish community which has been received very well.
“I can’t thank the Jewish community enough for how kind they have been to me. It was a gap in my education that I am trying to work on.”
Rafiq admits the nearly two years since he first made the allegations have been very difficult but is pleased with the progress.
“I have struggled a lot with my mental health. It has been incredibly challenging. There have been concerns around my physical safety, and that of my wife and my wider family.
“I never expected it to be easy but I also never expected to come this far and I am proud of that.
“I would like to thank everyone who has supported me and hopefully we all start to see change now.”
Rafiq is pleased with the work done so far by new Yorkshire chairman Lord Patel who, along with conducting reviews and making changes in the staff, has set up a hotline for victims of discrimination.
Rafiq said: “Yorkshire, in my opinion, are showing positive signs of wanting and being willing to make changes so this is a game for everyone. We, as a game, should support them. I have been clear that, if they are willing to change, they will have my support.
“Everything up to now, and a few more things that will be announced in the coming weeks, have shown they are moving in the right direction.
“That is the most important part of all this so that everything I have put myself and my family through is worthwhile.”
One of the changes includes the appointment of Barnsley man Darren Gough as director of cricket.
Rafiq said: “It’s no secret that we are friends.
“We’ve always stayed in touch. He was my first captain.
“I have felt for a long time that people like Goughie need to get back involved in the game because he’s real and he gets things done.
“I am excited for him.
“It is an incredible challenge but I am confident he will nail it.”
Rafiq is hoping to return to cricket in some capacity in the future.
“My two passions are coaching and media broadcasting.
“But for now I have to put them on hold because I feel responsibility to other people who have suffered injustice. I am getting phonecalls and messages all the time.
“I am still helping those people and trying to get their voices heard. I was left on my own for a very long time and I don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”
Yorkshire this week appointed Ottis Gibson as their new coach.