Colin Graves sorry for Yorkshire racism but Azeem Rafiq wants ‘more than words’

By Sports Desk January 11, 2024

Colin Graves has apologised “personally and unreservedly” to those who experienced racism at Yorkshire after the club’s board approved a loan offer that paves the way for his controversial return as chair.

But Azeem Rafiq, the former spinner turned whistleblower whose revelations lie at the heart of the scandal that has engulfed the club in recent years, has already rejected Graves’ attempts to say sorry.

Rafiq believes the acceptance of Graves’ proposals, described by Yorkshire as the only viable offer left to tackle a crippling financial situation that involves debts of almost £15million to the Graves family trust, shows the game has failed to tackle its discrimination problem.

Graves is set to resume the role he left in 2015, when he became chair of the England and Wales Cricket Board, when Yorkshire members vote at an extraordinary general meeting scheduled for February 2.

The 75-year-old has offered an initial £1million, with another £4m of backing promised over a five-month period, provided members ratify him as chair and agree to bring allies Phillip Hodson, Sanjay Patel and Sanjeev Gandhi on to a much-changed board.

Those currently in charge of the club have recommended the deal but it is a divisive move considering the racism scandal partially took place during Graves’ first stint in charge.

Graves has attempted to row back from his previous bullish approach, apologising fully to those who suffered racism and adding that he “profoundly regrets” comments last summer that appeared to explain away the issue as “banter”.

Rafiq, for one, says that is not enough.

“It’s not something I accept. It’s got to be further than just words,” he told the PA news agency.

“We’ve seen a lot of grand apologies and I’ve believed them – not any more. Be careful what you wish for is what I say, not just to Yorkshire members, but to cricket.

“This is a clear message to me, to other people that have been abused, to south Asians, to people of colour, that cricket is not a place for you. Actions speak louder than words and at the first point of challenge the game has shown exactly what it is, which is institutionally, systemically, racist.

“It’s not my club (anymore). Even after everything that’s happened – driven out of the country, attacked, abused, still I was like ‘I have got pride in this (county) cap’. I no longer do and I am contemplating what to do with it.”

Graves’ statement, which accompanied news that his emergency funding offer had been accepted at board level, read: “I apologise personally and unreservedly to anyone who experienced any form of racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

“Discrimination or abuse based on race, ethnicity or any other protected characteristic is not and never will be acceptable. I profoundly regret some of the language I used when asked about the events that took place when I was chairman, at a time when I was no longer at the club. I understand and sympathise with those who regarded my comments as dismissive or uncaring.

“I am determined to do whatever is required to ensure Yorkshire County Cricket Club continues to reflect the communities it represents.”

Graves went on to make it clear he and his backers accepted the findings of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) and would uphold its recommendations.

The ECB, which recently stepped in to provide Yorkshire with financial support in the form of cash advances, welcomed Graves’ apology but warned it would keep a close eye on the club’s conduct.

“Considerable work has been carried out at Yorkshire – and across cricket more widely – in recent years to tackle discrimination and make the game more inclusive, and it is vital this continues,” read a statement from the governing body.

“We welcome Colin Graves’ commitment to continue this work, his unreserved apology and acceptance of the findings of the ICEC. These words must be put into action if Yorkshire members approve this deal.

“In addition, the ECB continues to exercise its ongoing role of ensuring effective oversight of governance across the wider game. There are also significant powers which can be used to hold Yorkshire County Cricket Club to account if it does not continue with the progress and reform we have seen over the last few years.”

The threat of suspending Headingley’s right to host international cricket was previously imposed in 2021 and lifted the following year following sweeping changes by previous chair Lord Kamlesh Patel.

Graves has been invited to appear in front of the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) select committee, with chair, Caroline Dinenage MP, warning her group would be “watching closely” amid concerns that his comeback “risks undermining what progress has been made so far”.

One of Graves closest allies, and another former Yorkshire chair, Robin Smith offered a more optimistic take.

He told PA: “The proposal from Colin Graves is the only one on the table. Fortunately, it happens to be a rather good one.

“The proposal comes from people of proven integrity and experience, notably Colin Graves himself, who, for the second time, has been willing to come to Yorkshire’s aid in its hour of desperate need.”

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