The one recurrence is, the word Paki was used a lot. When I was 15, I was pinned down and red wine was poured down my throat. Misfielding & fielding drill – it’s a black thing. Eat banana you f***ing monkey.
– Azeem Rafiq
Azeem Rafiq has represented England at an international level before his career graph skewed for several reasons. Playing in the team as an Off-spinner, he moved to England from Pakistan in 2001, played for England Under-15 and Under-17 sides, the latter as captain, and moved on to score a first-class century for the county in only his second match. He was successively named England Captain for the Under-19 World Cup.
He has now spoken out about racism and harassment at Yorkshire Cricket County Club and cricket clubs across the country in general.
As the Sports & Culture Committee in the UK listened to allegations of harassment and bullying at Yorkshire Country Cricket Club, British Pakistani cricketer Azeem carried on in measured, articulate, and lucid manner to tell the whole world why he had it tough. He was driven to near suicide and struggled with his mental health. He had a dream to represent England when he left Pakistan. But he felt isolated & humiliated at times
As a mother of two teenage boys who love playing cricket and attend University in the UK, his words struck a chord deep inside me.
After trying hard to gain support from the Asian community and complaining to the Yorkshire Cricket Club authorities, who dismissed it as nothing requiring disciplinary action, Azeem battled on till he got the world to listen.
What was interesting was that he mentioned that racism is so institutionalized that it is, in a way, embedded into our system, which is why, people, good people don’t take note either. Of the Asian community, we are scared of confronting the system, and often, our instant reaction to a casual racist remark is – he must not have meant it that way, did I hear that right? Naah, I’m being overly sensitive – Denial is a strong feeling to hold on to when you can’t fathom the real thing.
Azeem Responded To Why He Didn’t Just Quit
Because he wasn’t a quitter? It was this fighting spirit that got him, one of a handful of Pakistanis, to gain entry into the Yorkshire Cricket Club and captain of the under 19 English Cricket team at one point.
Imagine the courage of a young player who took on an established cricket club like Yorkshire and kept on taking them on till everyone listened. The determination to gather witnesses who would support his story was another challenge which he needed in order to validate his allegations – all this without any support from organizations who could have, should have, helped.
Instead, when knocking on doors didn’t work, he turned to social media as a final resort – and that worked. (Despite all the negative backlash), it was worth the individual & media support he managed to raise in order to address the issue on a larger platform and create hope for some real change!
The hearing had to adjourn for 5 min as he became fairly emotional, especially when talking about burying his son at the graveyard, and not getting any support from the club, was a revelation particularly hard to listen to.
When He Was 15 He Was Pinned Down And Red Wine Was Poured Down His Throat
A racially offensive word regarding his heritage was used repeatedly. The offensive language was used before coaches etc. He was asked to go back home to his roots. He took a break and medication for his mental health. His wife was going through a difficult pregnancy and they lost their son.
A Balanced, Mature Testimony
What was really remarkable about Azeem’s testimony was the balanced, articulate approach to the issue despite it being deeply emotional and one that has left many scars on his recent life. “I think off the record there have been enough instances up and down the country. It’s not just Yorkshire, … my experience is not just limited to me.” There is enough evidence to show there is a problem, he opined.
It (Racism) Is So Normal That People Don’t Even Remember It
“People just don’t want to listen. Good people want to look the other way. It is so normal that people don’t remember it,” says Azeem. The point is that young cricketers take casual racism, using the ‘P’ word in their stride. They do not think much of taunting, teasing, and general dressing room banter because, perhaps, they have seen their seniors do it. Often, they are not even aware that they are using racist language. In the same way, Asian communities are often in denial. They do not call out racist slurs because often, they are mentally intimidated through cultural conditioning and a fear of taking on an institution) that they must have misheard or misunderstood the rhetoric. And since the entire culture is geared towards dismissing the allegation as casual dressing room talk – no one really calls it out, till Azeem Rafiq did.
Imran Khan in 1999 Talked About
YORKSHIRE CRICKET Club has had to fend off new claims that its recruitment practices are racist after former international cricketer Imran Khan accused the club of bypassing local Asian talent – The Independent
Zoheb was later side-lined and released from the team despite maintaining a great average, he was told, no matter how well he performs, he will never make it into the first team at the club!
In a county like Yorkshire where reportedly 85% of children playing cricket are Asian, only a handful make it to club cricket speaks volumes about the challenges and obstacles faced by the Asian community to make it to professional level cricket – ITV Good Morning Britain
Azeem has been a victim of this system. From giving up a promising cricketing career to facing personal losses in his life, not being around for his two young children, to taking medication for his mental health, Azeem STILL came out the bigger person when he said:
A heartbreaking moment, and there were many, was when he declared that he imagines parents listening to him would not want to send their children to play the game.
Where To Go From Here?
Azeem believes in a grand plan and feels that even if he had to sacrifice his cricketing career, perhaps he can be instrumental in opening up a cleaner, racism-free world for children in the future. He mentioned that many people had reached out to him on social media, telling him that’s he’s not the only one, that they were amazed he had the courage to speak out about an issue that is an institution, and it is hard if not impossible and deeply intimidating to take down institutions in any culture. It means giving up on a promising career, a dream, which is exactly what Azeem has had to do.
Azeem Has Goals And States This Is Just The Beginning
Azeem’s courage is inspirational, he seemed like a soldier who has suffered the worst and now, is ready to take on all battles head-on! This stance will hopefully give courage to many more young boys and girls who want to live their cricketing dream but are wary of the racism or inherent levels of harassment embedded in the institution.
Azeem Rafiq has shown exceptional courage in breaking norms, calling out a longstanding wrong, and that too, against deeply established institutions in a culture that is sometimes foreign territory (unfortunately) still. However, his struggle has also highlighted the power of social media and all the media publications that took on his story and helped bring a lone voice to be heard on a public platform – together we can, but first, we have to start listening. Azeem has been speaking out for many years, but his story breaks now – a dream and a promising cricketing career, is lost in transition, Hopefully, the future will be brighter for the next generation.
In Azeem’s words, this is just the beginning!