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Sponsors drop Yorkshire County Club after report into allegations of racism by former player

Sponsors drop Yorkshire County Club after report into allegations of racism by former player
Azeem Rafiq of Yorkshire bats during Day Two of the Specsavers County Championship Division One match between Yorkshire and Durham at Headingley on 7 September 2016 in Leeds, England. (Photo: Daniel Smith / Getty Images)

Sponsors of English county side Yorkshire have ended their partnerships with the club after an independent report into allegations of racism made by former player Azeem Rafiq.

The report found that the player was a victim of racial harassment and bullying in his first spell at the county from 2008 to 2014.

Yorkshire said last month that the club would not take any disciplinary action against employees, players or executives following the report. So far, only a summary of the club’s 12-month investigation – one which began in September last year and included the admission that Rafiq was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” – has been made public.

Publishing company Emerald Group and Yorkshire Tea said on 3 November that they had cut ties with Yorkshire.

Rafiq, a player of Pakistani descent and a former captain of the England Under-19s, said last year that he had been made to feel like an outsider at Yorkshire and had contemplated taking his own life.

Yorkshire apologised to Rafiq in September after the publication of a summary of the report’s findings.

Yorkshire chairperson Roger Hutton as well as other members of the club’s senior management have been summoned to appear before a parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport panel to provide evidence.

Rafiq will also give evidence at the hearing on 16 November, and British media reported the club’s board was due to meet on 5 November for emergency talks.

Yorkshire batter Gary Ballance said he regrets using racist language towards his former team-mate Rafiq.

“It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent enquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so,” Ballance said in a statement.

“To be clear, I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years.”

Ballance, who played 23 tests for England, described Rafiq as his “best mate in cricket” and said that on the pitch they “supported each other greatly”.

Emerald Group said this week that it would remove its brand association with the club and Headingley Stadium.

“We do not tolerate any form of racism or discriminatory behaviour and the damaging effects this has,” it said in a statement.

“Our intention remains to continue a financial commitment to the stadium, which is also the home of Leeds Rhinos rugby, as we believe this supports the aims of diversity and inclusion in sport along with a range of charitable community endeavours.

“Emerald will, however, no longer sponsor Yorkshire County Cricket Club. We hope [the club] will listen and respond with serious action to eradicate racism from the club and uphold the values we all expect.”

Yorkshire Tea said in a statement it would cut ties with the club with immediate effect, while local brewer Tetley’s said it would not extend its official beer sponsorship with the team beyond the end of the current contractual agreement.

British media reported another sponsor, David Lloyd Clubs, had already put its relationship with the team on hold a few weeks ago, and local transport company First Leeds had sought to meet with county officials. Reuters/DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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