There’s no place for racism in sport
It’s disturbing and shaming enough for us all when the jeers, gestures and racist chants directed at sportsmen and women spew down out of the terraces from so-called “fans”. But when that hatred and discrimination comes from within a club, from teammates, colleagues and supposed friends, then that club needs to take a hard look at itself. The entire sport too must reconsider attitudes and behaviour that may long have been deemed acceptable and words or phrases laughed off for years as harmless, good-natured “banter”. No racist words are ever “banter”, they are racism pure and simple. The sport of cricket, for so long considered a bastion of gentlemanly conduct, was rocked by accusations of “institutional racism” within the Yorkshire County Club by former player, Azeem Rafiq. The club launched an inquiry and found that Rafiq had indeed been the victim of “racial harassment and bullying” – but no one consequently faced disciplinary action. Since then the floodgates have opened, with further Yorkshire players and others at the Essex club coming forward with allegations of their own, not only against players, but officials too. The Nottinghamshire club is also currently investigating further claims.
Events have moved on swiftly and Rafiq has given evidence to MPs – members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee. He stressed the scale of abuse he suffered and lack of support he was given. Two days after that hearing, Rafiq, a former spin bowler, apologised for anti-Semitic remarks he made more than a decade ago, when he was nineteen. He said he was “ashamed” of the offensive Facebook messages he posted, that he would not “defend the indefensible” and promised to “own any more mistakes” he has made. It was chastening for Rafiq, but must not be allowed to diminish in any way the years of racist abuse he and others endured, or its damaging, long-term effect on them all. There are too many incidents – counting those who have suffered and those who have inflicted the suffering – to list here, but it appears that many of the accused have been publicly named. Some, to their credit, have apologised unreservedly, some have offered a partial apology, others choose to unconvincingly justify or explain away their words or actions, and a few deny any racist behaviour. The various investigations at county and national level will probably bring further clarification and in the meantime the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has pledged £25m over five years to tackle racism and discrimination in the sport. In Australia, as the battle for the Ashes is played out, England managing director Ashley Giles says the racism scandal has created “discussion and reflection” among the team, with many players watching Rafiq’s emotional testimony to the select committee. He added, “We’ve got to do much better and I’m sure we will do much better.” Encouraging words, but in life and in sport in particular actions usually speak much louder than words.