ECB investigation into race discrimination allegations


22 June 2022

BirkettsJonathan Shevlane looks at equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the implications of the ECB’s current investigation into race discrimination allegations.

Following widespread criticism in autumn 2021 of Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s handling of Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of direct race discrimination, harassment and victimisation by the organisation and its personnel, the England and Wales Cricket Board (“ECB”) launched its own separate investigation into Rafiq’s allegations.

Cricket’s governing body has now charged Yorkshire and “a number of individuals” (reportedly current and former players and members of staff) with breaching its own anti-discrimination code, and the ECB directives (effectively a code of conduct for the professional game).

Background

In August 2020, a published interview with Azeem Rafiq contained some shocking but non-specific allegations of race discrimination implicating Yorkshire and some of its players. These allegations led to a media storm, followed by a tribunal claim brought by Mr Rafiq against his former employer, a lengthy internal investigation commissioned by Yorkshire, a parliamentary select committee hearing and an investigation by the ECB’s Cricket Discipline Commission.

Rafiq’s allegations, like so many victims of race discrimination, ranged from specific racially discriminatory slurs and comments made by individual colleagues, to allegations that he was not offered sufficient support either professionally or emotionally during his years playing for the club. This was allegedly in clear contrast with how the club supported its white players. Senior figures were accused of turning a blind eye both when witnessing discriminatory acts and also when Rafiq raised allegations informally with them. The allegations spanned a period of around a decade while Rafiq was employed as a professional cricketer for Yorkshire.

On 15 June 2022, attention turned to the ECB’s own separate investigation into Rafiq’s claims. The ECB stated that its investigation is looking into “racism and other allegations at the Club and its handling of those allegations”, which suggests that the scope may have increased beyond that of Rafiq’s initial grievance. However, any disciplinary action against Yorkshire and the implicated individuals will not be taken until after the hearing(s) – currently not due to take place until September or October of this year.

Why is the ECB investigating discrimination allegations which occurred internally within a member organisation?

Historically the ECB has mainly been concerned with allegations of discriminatory comments which have taken place on the field of play itself. However the Azeem Rafiq allegations, occurring in the wake of George Floyd’s murder on 25 May 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests, created waves far outside of the world of cricket and became national and even international news. When reports of Yorkshire’s decision not to impose any sanction on any current employee came out in October 2021, the ECB announced that it would be carrying out its own separate investigation, suggesting that the ECB was unimpressed with how Yorkshire had handled the matter internally. The Commons select committee interview with Rafiq only highlighted further the extent and seriousness of his allegations and drew more attention to the seemingly incongruous response of Yorkshire.

There is scope within the ECB’s Directives and its Anti-Discrimination Code to scrutinise and potentially discipline organisations like Yorkshire who have allegedly failed to prevent discriminatory conduct occurring within their organisation. The trigger here was undoubtedly the media attention on this story, but there will be significant pressure on the ECB to show that their approach in the Rafiq case is not a one off.

Commentary

The ECB’s actions in relation to this case fit a wider trend of regulatory and governing bodies concerning themselves with the discriminatory and harassing conduct taking place internally within their member organisations. For instance, Lloyd’s of London’s Enforcement Board (an external body with regulatory powers in the Insurance sector) recently fined a member firm £1 million for “tolerating bullying and misconduct” (see our recent article).

It will be interesting to see how far reaching the ECB’s investigation has been and the fines it chooses to impose (if any) on Yorkshire and any of the individuals under investigation. What may be more insightful will be how other regulatory bodies, both inside and outside of sport, respond to this extremely high profile example of a governing body taking action in response to allegations of discrimination against a member club. Will the ECB and other regulatory bodies continue to take further responsibility and action to improve the workplace culture in their own industries?

Action Points:

  • Always take allegations of discriminatory conduct very seriously, even where these are raised informally and not through a formal grievance policy.
  • Ensure that managers and other key decision makers have received detailed and up to date Equality Diversity and Inclusion Training.
  • Those in regulated sectors should review their regulator’s own Code of Practice and Equality Diversity and Inclusion Code and ensure that they act in compliance with it.

Birketts offers excellent Equality Diversity and Inclusion training for managers and employees both in person, online and as an e-learning programme.

If you have any questions on the contents of this article or would like further information on our ED & I training offering, please contact Jonathan Shevlane.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at June 2022.