News & Insights

Racism or discrimination in any form is not banter

Christian Meredith reviews the allegations raised by Azeem Rafiq against Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the subsequent fall out.

“Why do this to a human being?”

This was the question posed by the new Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s chairman, Kamlesh Patel, following the dispute between former employee Azeen Rafiq and the club following Rafiq’s allegations and the subsequent fallout.

By way of background, Rafiq was a cricketer with the club from 2008 to 2018. He was born in Pakistan and moved to England as a 10-year-old. In September 2020 he gave an interview with a cricket publication discussing how the club was “institutionally racist” and how this left him close to taking his own life.

Following Rafiq’s revelations, the club launched its own formal investigation in November 2020 and law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, were tasked with carrying out an independent investigation. By August 2021 the club had received the findings of the investigation. The announcement was delayed, and the club eventually stated Rafiq had been the “victim of inappropriate behaviour”, seemingly downplaying any racial element.

By September 2021, after another delay, the club stated Rafiq was the “victim of racial harassment and bullying” with seven of the 43 allegations upheld. However, the club insisted they could not release the full report for legal reasons. The club also concluded there had been insufficient evidence to determine they were institutionally racist.

The employment tribunal judge subsequently ordered the club to send the full report to Rafiq and his legal team by 8 October 2021. Once again, the deadline was missed. Five days later, Rafiq received a heavily redacted version.

The story gained further national press following an article published shortly after, on 1 November, which claimed a racist term about Rafiq’s Pakistani heritage was regularly used towards him, but the investigation concluded it was “friendly and good-natured banter”. The club also went on to state that despite the findings nobody at the club would receive any disciplinary action.  Senior MPs put increased pressure on the club to take action and major sponsors began pulling out of their commercial arrangements with the club, including Nike, their kit supplier and Yorkshire Tea. The chairman of the club during the investigation has since resigned along with other leading figures and board members.

As of 9 November, the case has been settled at the employment tribunal. The new chairman, Patel, has issued a full apology to Rafiq.  The fallout from this case demonstrates how costly such a claim can be, not only in terms of the potential employment claim but also the much wide implications in terms of reputational and financial damage. Yorkshire CCC have lost privileges to host England games until they can prove they have changed the system that allowed this unacceptable culture to exist and thrive.

This case highlights two major lessons for employers. Firstly, that equality training and enforcing an inclusive environment in the workplace, including taking any appropriate formal disciplinary action in the event of unacceptable behaviour, is of the upmost importance. Secondly, that if there are issues or allegations of racism raised, it is important to deal with it in a fair and just manner. This includes investigating any allegations thoroughly, impartially and as a priority, meeting deadlines and being fully transparent with the conclusions of any investigations that have taken place.

The process for investigating allegations of harassment and other grievances is fundamental. If you would like to learn more about what equality training we can offer for your managers and employees or if you require further guidance on how to conduct investigations, please do contact us.

Racism or discrimination in any form is not banter