The handling of discriminatory race allegations by Yorkshire County Cricket Club


08 November 2021

The last week has seen the race scandal surrounding Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) once again thrust into the media, with many brands, including Nike, publically distancing themselves from the club and the ECB suspending Yorkshire‘s ground, Headingley, from hosting England matches.

YCCC face allegations of institutional racism following a public interview that ESPN carried out with former YCCC cricketer Azeem Rafiq, resulting in a formal investigation into the allegations being carried out by a law firm on behalf of the club.

Following the receipt of the findings of the investigation, YCCC stated that Rafiq had been the “victim of inappropriate behaviour”. This was thought to be something of a whitewash and seemingly showed an inability to understand the significance, seriousness and implications of the allegations. Following pressure from MPs, YCCC then released its own summary of the findings of the report, by which time they realised that they needed to be more specific and said that Rafiq was the “victim of racial harassment and bullying” with seven of the 43 allegations upheld. YCCC found there had been “insufficient evidence” to conclude the club was institutionally racist. Further, it has been widely reported that the report found that whilst a racist term about Rafiq’s Pakistani heritage was regularly used towards him, the investigation concluded that this was “friendly and good-natured banter”. The club have stated that no disciplinary action will be taken against any of its employees, players or executives.

This was a somewhat surprising outcome to the investigation in light of events over the last year including the murder of Sarah Everard and the Everyone’s Invited Campaign which have crystalised the need for societal change. Part of the consequently revised Government guidance on dealing with sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools articulated the need for schools and colleges to be aware of the importance of “making clear that there is a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence and sexual harassment and it is never acceptable, and it will not be tolerated and it should never be passed off as 'banter', 'just having a laugh', 'part of growing up' or 'boys being boys' and stated that "dismissing or tolerating such behaviours risks normalising them"; and "not recognising, acknowledging or understanding the scale of harassment and abuse and/or downplaying some behaviours related to abuse as it can lead to a culture of unacceptable behaviour".

Bearing in mind nationwide efforts to reinvigorate grass roots cricket and encourage children into the game, these children will be influenced by how prestigious institutions such as YCCC deal with such issues. YCCC’s response to the investigation has been widely condemned and has been labelled as further evidence of the institutional racism that Rafiq (and now others) complain of and a number of sponsors have cut ties with the club, with the club chairman resigning on Friday.

The England and Wales Cricket Board have stated that “the club’s failure in relation to actions and responses to their own report represent a significant breach of its obligations to the game”. An interesting and relevant question in respect of YCCC is would other sporting clubs have drawn the same summary conclusions from the investigation findings as they did and taken the same actions? Perhaps against the backdrop of recent campaigns both within and outside of sport including the taking of the knee before sporting fixtures to highlight continued racial inequality in sport, this seems unlikely and would be at odds with the statements and efforts of other clubs. YCCC have been called to give evidence before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee on 16 November. The DCMS have a role in ensuring public bodies, like sports clubs, are operating properly and fairly and are not breaking any rules. They can investigate any behaviour or practises they believe to be wrong.

Arguably it is not enough to just have a procedurally proper process but also the outcome needs to be substantively fair, reasonable and justifiable and also comply with natural justice. As we have seen, individual, corporate and institutional reputations can all be tarnished by deficient and unfair processes and outcomes. It takes a brave and some would say foolhardy institution to go against the zeitgeist of an age in which society is largely determined to improve equality and respect for all.

It will be interesting to see what the DCMS Select Committee and now also the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who have asked YCCC for more information, make of it all and whether YCCC is required to do some further, drastic, pruning in its garden.

If you would like any more information on the matters covered above, please contact Natalie Kent, a Dispute Resolution Solicitor in our Administrative and Public Law Disputes team. Our team regularly advises on issues arising within internal hearings and the managing of associated investigations and outcomes and will be happy to assist.

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 November 2021.

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