Cricketer Azeem Rafiq says he was forced to drink wine at 15

Azeem Rafiq batted back tears as he re-lived some of the racism and Islamophobia he faced as a player, including how he was forced to drink wine at the age of 15.

Speaking to the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport committee, the former cricketer gave shocking details about the racist abuse he suffered at Yorkshire and his subsequent fight to get the club to address the issues.

Rafiq said he and other Asian players experienced racism “pretty early on.”

“There were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant washers’. The word P*** was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out,” said Rafiq.

“‘P***’ is not banter. Racism is not banter,” he told MPs.

He revealed how a player who played for Yorkshire and Hampshire was involved in forcing him to drink alcohol. “My first incident of drinking, I was 15, I got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat,” said Rafiq.

When asked about harassment over prayers, Rafiq said he knows other players have had issues. He also added that one player at Yorkshire, whenever he made a mistake whilst fasting, fellow players and coaches would blame him for fasting.

More players have come out in recent weeks to relay stories about racist and Islamophobic abuse in cricket.

Yesterday, England bowler Adil Rashid became the third person to say that he heard Michael Vaughan make derogatory comments to a group of Asian cricketers. Vaughan denies allegations that he said there are ‘too many of you lot’ to the Asian players.

Meanwhile, former Essex cricketer Zoheb Sharif said he was nicknamed “the bomber” and “curry muncher” throughout his time at the county. He alleges that he was forced to pray in his car, as he was refused to use a corner at the club.

Maurice Chambers, a Jamaican fast bowler, also said racist bullying experienced at Essex made him cry after matches. On one occasion, a colleague called him a “f***ing monkey.”

Rafiq’s testimony

Here are some of the other things Rafiq said in his testimony to the MPs: 

  • Rafiq’s relationship with Gary Ballance, the player who used the racial slur P***, deteriorated because of Ballance’s “toxic” and “disgusting” behaviour. According to Rafiq, Ballance would say: “Why are you talking to him, he’s not a Sheikh, he hasn’t got oil.”
  • Yorkshire players, media, the club, and commentators called Indian cricketer Cheteshwar Pujara “Steve” while he was at the club. And “Kevin” was something  Ballance used to describe anyone of colour, says Rafiq. 
  • He talked movingly about the lack of compassion from the club after the tragic stillbirth of his son in 2017
  • Rafiq said racism is institutional in cricket and it is not just in Yorkshire. He has had messages from players in other clubs, including Leicester, Middlesex and Nottinghamshire about similar inncidents. “Some people are obviously still pretty scared to talk about it. Some are asking is it racism, or should I have called it out? The one reoccurrence is the word ‘Paki’ was used a lot.”
  • Rafiq said he does not want to see tokenism from the ECB and wants them to take responsibility and act. “To be honest, we’re sick and tired of these commissions and inquiries. All we’re asking is for equality. To be treated fairly, regardless of the colour of our skin or the religion we follow,” he added.
  • The game has missed out on a lot of talent as a result of racism. “And not just Asian cricketers, black cricketers as well. The representation of black cricketers is worrying compared to where it was,” said Rafiq.


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