England cricket stars apologise to Azeem Rafiq after 'disturbing' racism allegations

16 November 2021, 21:53 | Updated: 16 November 2021, 23:07

David Lloyd (left) and Tim Bresnan (right) have apologised to Azeem Rafiq
David Lloyd (left) and Tim Bresnan (right) have apologised to Azeem Rafiq. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Former England coach David Lloyd has issued an apology to Azeem Rafiq after allegations were made of "disturbing" racist messages.

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The Sky Sports broadcaster David 'Bumble' Lloyd was named by Mr Rafiq during an emotional testimony at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee hearing on the cricket racism scandal.

Mr Rafiq claimed the former England coach played a part in "denials, briefings, cover-ups and smearing" after the cricketer revealed he had been close to committing suicide during his time playing for Yorkshire due to "institutional racism".

Speaking at the committee, Mr Rafiq said: "I sat in front of national TV and talked about the dark places this whole episode has got me into and what's happened since then? Denial, briefings, cover-ups, smearing.

"High-profile media people messaging other members of the media who supported me saying stuff like 'the club houses are the life blood of a club and Asian players don't go in there', 'getting subs out of Asian players is like getting blood out of stone'.

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"And then personally this guy doesn't even know me, has never spent any time with me, is talking about my personal drinking, going out and socialising.

"That was David Lloyd, he's been an England coach, commentator, and I found it disturbing because Sky are supposedly doing this amazing work on bringing racism to the front and within a week of me speaking out that's what I got sent to me."

The allegations prompted Mr Lloyd to post a public apology on Twitter admitting he is sorry for the offence caused and "deeply regrets" his actions.

He said: "In October 2020, I had a private message exchanged with a third party involved in cricket, about a number of topics.

"In these messages, I referred to allegations about Azeem Rafiq which I had heard from within the game. I also made some comments about the Asian cricket community.

"I deeply regret my actions, and I apologise most sincerely to Azeem and to the Asian cricket community for doing this, and for any offence caused."

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Sky has since confirmed they are investigation the comments made by the sports pundit.

It said: "Sky is committed to actively championing inclusion in cricket - and in all sports - and opposing all forms of discrimination. We will be investigating the comments attributed to David Lloyd in today's select committee hearing."

During Mr Rafiq's witness statement it was said team mates engaged in "banter unashamedly" adding: "The use of racist language was generally condoned or ignored - it was completely normalised. But the abuse was constant: I felt constantly mocked and devalued."

Azeem Rafiq was seen fighting back tears as he told MPs the word 'P***' was "used constantly" across his two spells at Yorkshire and no one in leadership challenged it.

The player said Yorkshire County Cricket club gave him "inhuman" treatment when his son was still born in 2017 and that he had "lost his career to racism".

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Azeem's account also prompted Tim Bresnan to issue an apology on Tuesday evening but the player "categorically denies" accusations that he frequently made racist comments.

Posting on Twitter the former Yorkshire cricketer said: "I have been made aware of the bullying claims made against me and have listened to Azeem Rafiq's account of his time at Yorkshire County Cricket Club today with great distress, as I'm sure everyone will have done.

"For any part I played in contributing to Azeem Rafiq's experience of feeling bullied at Yorkshire, I apologise unreservedly.

"Following the publication of Azeem's witness statement from the employment tribunal, which I saw for the first time this afternoon, I must though categorically deny his accusation that I 'frequently made racist comments'. This is absolutely not true."

Mark McCafferty, chairman of Tim Bresnan's current club, Warwickshire, has said the club is "seriously concerned" to learn about the allegations made by Azeem and "will not shirk from investigating these matters in full and taking action if necessary".

Downing Street described Mr Rafiq's evidence to the committee as "concerning".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Boris Johnson had been in meetings and had not watched any of the testimony.

But the spokesman added: "The evidence given this morning is concerning. There is no place for racism in sport.

"There is no place for racism anywhere in society."

In a tweet this evening, Mr Johnson commended Mr Rafiq's "brave testimony", adding: "There is no excuse for racism anywhere in society and we expect @EnglandCricket and @YorkshireCCC to take immediate action in response to these allegations."

Rafiq, who is a Muslim, also described his harrowing first experience of alcohol at the age of 15 at the select committee.

"I got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat, literally down my throat," he said.

"The player played for Yorkshire and Hampshire. I (then) didn't touch alcohol until about 2012 and around that time I felt I had to do that to fit in."

He later added he had been in a car at the time and there had been one other witness to the incident. "No one did anything," he said.

Asked if anyone had stood up for him at the time bullying and racist abuse was taking place, Rafiq replied: "Nobody. That's the institution.

"You had people who were openly racist and you had the bystanders. A lot of people watched it happen and no one felt like it was important or because it was such a norm that no one felt strong enough to actually stand up."