Former England Test captain and prominent cricket commentator Michael Vaughan has been embroiled in the ongoing racism scandal engulfing the Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Vaughan, a prominent Yorkshire batter in his playing days who led England to a famous Ashes series victory in 2005, is one of a number of players and administrators at the club accused by former player Azeem Rafiq of using racial slurs against him.
The 47-year old has used his column in The Telegraph to vehemently deny the accusations, describing hearing he was implicated as “like being struck over the head with a brick”.
“I have been involved in cricket for 30 years and never once been accused of any remotely similar incident or disciplinary offence as a player or commentator,” Vaughan wrote.
“That the allegation came completely out of the blue and more than a decade after it was alleged to have happened made it all the more difficult to process.
“I completely and categorically deny that I ever said those words. I responded to the panel by saying I was gobsmacked.”
According to Vaughan, he found out about the allegations after being appointed as part of an independent panel assigned by Yorkshire to investigate Rafiq’s claims of racism. He is alleged to have said to Rafiq and two other Asian players “that there are ‘too many of you lot, we need to do something about it'” before a match against Nottinghamshire in 2009.
As well as Rafiq, former and current England internationals Ajmal Shahzad and Adil Rashid, as well as former Pakistan cricketer Rana Naved, were members of the team that day.
“I have nothing to hide,” Vaughan wrote. “The ‘you lot’ comment never happened.
“Anyone trying to recollect words said 10 years ago will be fallible but I am adamant those words were not used. If Rafiq believes something was said at the time to upset him then that is what he believes. It is difficult to comment on that except to say it hurts me hugely to think I potentially affected someone.
“I take it as the most serious allegation ever put in front of me and I will fight to the end to prove I am not that person.”
Fallout from the scandal has already begun, with the England and Wales Cricket Board announcing that Yorkshire’s Headingley Cricket Ground, one of the nation’s most iconic venues, has been barred from hosting international matches “until it [Yorkshire] has clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and First Class County”.
The club has also begun to haemorrhage sponsors, with Anchor Butter, Yorkshire Tea and Emerald Group Publishing among those to have cut ties already.
Rafiq, a Pakistan-born off-spin bowler who played 39 first-class matches for Yorkshire between 2008 and 2018 after moving to England with his family at the age of ten, originally made the allegations against the club in August 2020. In an interview with Wisden, Rafiq detailed his experiences dealing with racism in the county game.
“I’ve been in dressing rooms where things have been said, and, really, I should have stopped it. I had a captain who was openly racist. Why didn’t I stop it? It was the environment,” Rafiq said.
“I raised my voice about it once and I was made out to be the person… who was in the wrong. Through the years you feel like you have to do things to fit in, and I did. The minute I didn’t, I felt isolated.”
The interview, as well as Rafiq’s ongoing compensation lawsuit against the club, prompted Yorkshire to announce an investigation into Rafiq’s claims, in which Vaughan was involved. However, despite publicly admitting in a statement in September that there was “no question that Azeem Rafiq… was the victim of racial harassment”, the club has come under fire for clearing a player, now known to be former England Test player Gary Ballance, of using a racial slur.
Ballance was found by the club to have regularly used the derogatory term ‘P–i’ when talking to Rafiq, but Yorkshire dismissed the slur as “banter between friends”.
“It was not reasonable for Azeem to have been offended by [the other player] directing equally offensive or derogatory comments back at him in the same spirit of friendly banter,” the report, revealed by ESPNCricinfo’s George Dobell, reads.
Ballance, who has been suspended from international matches by the ECB until an investigation into his conduct takes places, has since apologised to Rafiq in a statement, but maintains “at no time did I believe or understand that it [racist language] had caused Rafa distress”.
“If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately. He was my best mate in cricket and I cared deeply for him,” Ballance said.
“To be clear — I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years. I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate.”
It has been alleged Rafiq referred to Ballance, who was born in Zimbabwe, as ‘Zimbo’. The term is not widely considered to be racist.
Rafiq has stated in a Twitter post that his focus is on “institutional racism and abject failures to act by numerous leaders at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and in the wider game,” rather than targeting individuals involved in the abuse.
Some thoughts below pic.twitter.com/Y3Sh8NNPzT
— Azeem Rafiq (@AzeemRafiq30) November 4, 2021
According to Vaughan, Rafiq also made a complaint that the former captain “[made] him feel inferior” over comments Yorkshire should sign New Zealand captain and star batter Kane Williamson, for his off-spin. Vaughan denies that allegation as well.
“I would never have said that in front of a group,” he wrote.
“I saw the way Williamson played in Twenty20 cricket and recognised that we needed three-dimensional cricketers in our top four who could score runs, bowl overs and field well.
“By suggesting Yorkshire sign Williamson I was attempting to improve the team and my cricket knowledge suggests that was the right call. Again, it hurts to be told that Rafiq believes that in recommending the signature of Williamson, I was attacking him and that I was doing so on grounds of race.”
Yorkshire long held a reputation as the most insular of county cricket clubs. From 1968 to 1992, the club’s policy was to only select players born in the Yorkshire area. It took until 1992 for the first player from elsewhere in England to be picked – Vaughan. That season, 19-year old Sachin Tendulkar became the club’s first international signing.
Vaughan recounted his experiences at the club in his article, maintaining that while it was a “hard dressing room”, he “never heard racist abuse”.
“All players in that period are now looking back on things that were said and admit they would not say them now,” Vaughan wrote.
“If you had a big nose, were bald or carried a bit of weight they would be commented on.
“I was the first non-Yorkshire born player to play for the county and that was commented on a lot. I am not comparing those examples with racism but they are examples of previously commonplace behaviour which is unacceptable now. We cannot change what was said or happened in dressing rooms 10-15 years ago but we can learn from it.”