Next “shock” in England: when racism is the norm

Former professional cricketer Azeem Rafiq testifies at a parliamentary hearing on humiliating racism at his former club. Britain reacts in shock: the Rafiq case is not an anomaly, but a sad normality.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club is something like Bayern Munich for its sport. The club has won more championships than any other English team since it was founded in 1863. The club represents the traditional county of Yorkshire, still referred to by its residents as “God’s own county”.

On Tuesday, the venerable club and the entire cricket nation faced the racism that has been eating away at the sport and its culture and system for years. With tears in his eyes, former professional Azeem Rafiq gave an emotional testimony at a parliamentary hearing about his devastating experiences with racism at the “county of God” cricket club, and shook the whole of England. In doing so, he simply pointed to the bitter reality of the Asian community and other minorities in Britain. Because the Rafiq case is everything else alarming anomaly.

One step back. In 2018, Rafiq, who was born in Pakistan and immigrated to England with his parents at the age of ten, brought the racist locker room culture to the Yorkshire Cricket Club for the first time. He played for the club from 2008 to 2014 and from 2016 to 2018. The club ignored complaints from his cricketer, who was also struggling with the stillbirth of his son. It wasn’t until the former English U19 captain made them public in 2020 that an investigation was launched.

Two and a half months ago, the club concluded that Rafiq had been “harassed and racially harassed”. Yorkshire “apologized” to the 30-year-old. However, the full report was not made public and the club stated that it would not take any disciplinary action against the players or staff. The leaks later revealed that the report dismissed Rafiq’s racist insults as “friendly and good-natured jokes” or “jokes” between teammates.

Among other things, it was about the regular use of a derogatory term for people supposedly from South Asia (particularly Pakistan), which is used mainly in the UK. For those affected and those who have experienced racism, such demotions are anything but “good-natured jokes.” And unfortunately also a sad reality. Older generations of immigrants, in particular, have heard this kind of racism often in Britain. But the Rafiq case shows that today’s world is not much different.

It is about the exclusion of an individual. A derogatory term always results in a certain dehumanization, which in turn leads to worse treatment. In this way, minorities are deprived of their true identity to some extent. For Rafiq and many others it was and is a normality that should not be.

And the reaction of the Yorkshire Cricket Club revealed a rampant problem in many places: the dominant group or the majority still want to determine, in cricket as in the rest of the country, they are white and British-British about what constitutes racism and what is acceptable. and what is not. Minorities must accept the guidelines of the majority culture. But there are no two sides to racism and only those affected feel the insults and the disadvantages.

As Rafiq now told the parliamentary committee, the top white players had given him and other players of color the blanket derogatory term “Kevin.” This was also “an open secret” in the England team. The racist game is said to have gone so far that one of the professionals even named his dog because he was black. Rafiq is also said to have been called an “elephant washer” all the time.

“From the beginning, there were comments like ‘Your group is sitting near the toilets’ for me and other people of Asian descent,” Rafiq said. Those responsible would simply have accepted something like that. Players of Muslim origin were blamed for the team’s mistakes during their Lent. The former professional said the racism he witnessed in Yorkshire is “without a doubt” across the country.

When asked if he thought cricket in the UK was institutionally racist, Rafiq replied: “Yes, I do.” The scale of the problem is “terrifying.” Everyone in sport knows there is a problem. But he “saw that life becomes hell if you say so,” said the former professional.

“Do I think I lost my career to racism? Yes, I do,” Rafiq concluded. Now he wants to give a voice to the many people who cannot be heard. Not just in cricket. He has noticed since 2018 that no one in the community came to support him because they felt helpless, because they feared that they could not defeat the system and that no one would believe them. “I hope we see a big change in five years,” Rafiq said of the reason for his public appearance.

After all, there are initial consequences, rarely in such cases. “I agree that the handling of the report highlights issues related to institutional racism,” Tom Harrison, head of the Cricket Board of England and Wales (ECB), admitted to MPs. The ECB has banned Yorkshire, the sport’s Bayern, from hosting international matches for the time being due to the “completely unacceptable” reaction to racism Rafiq faced. Sponsors, including supplier Nike, are canceling their contracts. The damage to reputation is enormous.

Fans and experts were also shocked. “Yorkshire culture is stuck in the past,” Roger Hutton, the club’s outgoing president, even announced due to the uproar. But he was wrong. Racism is not a phenomenon of the past, it comes in many different forms and in many places the present is still sad and normal. Especially in a country with such a bloody and persistent colonial past.

This time it was the UK, but it could also have been Germany. Whether in professional football or among the fans, whether in the stands or on the field, racist insults continue to be made in this country. This time it was cricket. But it could be any other sport, any other area of ​​life. The depth of racism in Great Britain became apparent not only recently after the final of the European Football Championship, when three black players from the England team were ridiculed for missing penalties.

People of color have known for a long time, of course, that many people experience racism as normal. Now “God’s own county” knows it too, now the sport of cricket knows it. In 2018, at the same time as Azeem Rafiq made the first disclosure of racist processes, the ECB published a study that showed that people of South Asian descent made up a third of recreational cricketers in England, but only four percent of professionals. In the last ten years, the latter figure is said to have dropped by as much as 40 percent.

Jamie Franklin

"Troublemaker. Typical travel fan. Food fanatic. Award-winning student. Organizer. Entrepreneur. Bacon specialist."

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