England's leading cricket institutions have apologised to former player Azeem Rafiq for the racism he suffered during his career, admitting that discrimination is a “blight” on the game, and promised cultural change. The statement followed crisis talks in London, where the England and Wales Cricket Board, the domestic governing body; the Marylebone Cricket Club, which owns the Lord’s venue and is the guardian of the laws of the game; professional players and counties discussed measures to tackle racism and discrimination.
They said they had been “shocked, shamed and saddened” by the revelations made by Rafiq in parliament this week. The former Yorkshire player said racism was widespread in the sport across the country. As further allegations emerged, the crisis escalated to one of national significance. The scale of the meeting shows how serious the allegations are for a sport that had already pledged to be more diverse and welcoming to new fans and players from different backgrounds as it seeks to broaden its appeal.
Failing to tackle racism could lead to big governance changes for the game, and particularly the ECB. Nigel Huddleston, the UK sports minister, has threatened “the nuclear option” of legislating to establish an independent regulator. “To Rafiq and all those who have experienced any form of discrimination, we are truly sorry,” the group said after meeting for several hours at the Oval ground. “Our sport did not welcome you, our game did not accept you as we should have done. We apologise unreservedly for your suffering.”
Rafiq, 30, told a House of Commons hearing that he and other people from Asian backgrounds
had been subjected to racist bullying during his playing days at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, urging authorities to tackle the issue.