The next ‘shock’ in England: When racism is the norm

Former professional cricketer Azeem Rafeeq testifies at a parliamentary hearing on degrading racism at his former club. Great Britain reacts with shock – the Rafeeq affair is not an anomaly, but a sad normal.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club is similar to Bayern Munich in its sport. The club has won more trophies than any other English team since it was founded in 1863. The club represents the traditional county of Yorkshire, which is still referred to by its residents as ‘God’s Own County’.

The esteemed club and the entire cricket nation on Tuesday confronted the racism that has plagued the sport, its culture and system for years. Weeping, former professional Azeem Rafeeq gave an emotional testimony at a Parliament hearing about his devastating experiences with racism at God’s County cricket club that rocked the whole of England. In doing so, he simply referred to the bitter reality of Asian society and other minorities in Great Britain. Because Rafiq’s case is everything else an amazing anomaly.

step back. In 2018, Rafeeq, who was born in Pakistan and immigrated to England with his parents at the age of 10, raised awareness of the racist locker room culture at Yorkshire Cricket Club for the first time. He played for the club from 2008 to 2014 and 2016 to 2018. The club ignored the complaints of the cricketer, who was also suffering from a stillbirth. The investigation only began after the former England Under-19 captain made them public in 2020.

Two and a half months ago, the club concluded that Rafiq had indeed been subjected to “racial harassment”. Yorkshire “apologised” to the 30-year-old. However, the full report has not been made public, and the club has stated that it will not take any disciplinary action against players or staff. Later leaks revealed that the report dismissed Rafiq’s racist insults as “friendly and good-natured jokes” or “jokes” between his teammates.

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Among other things, it was related to the regular use of a derogatory term for people allegedly from South Asia (particularly Pakistan), which is used mainly in the United Kingdom. For those affected and people who have experienced racism, such pejoratives are nothing but “good jokes”. Unfortunately, it is also a sad fact. Older generations of immigrants in particular have heard this type of racism often in Great Britain. But Rafeeq’s case shows that today’s world is not very different.

It is about excluding an individual. The derogatory term almost always leads to dehumanization as a result, which in turn leads to abuse. In this way, minorities are to some extent deprived of their true identity. For Rafeeq and many others, it was, and still is, a normal state that it shouldn’t be.

The reaction of the Yorkshire Cricket Club revealed a pervasive problem in many places: the dominant group or the majority still wanted to define, in cricket as in the rest of the country, they are white and Briton about what constitutes racism and what is acceptable. And what is not. Minorities must accept the guiding principles of the majority culture. But there are no two sides to racism and only those affected by it feel insults and faults.

As Rafeeq told the Parliamentary Committee, the leading white players gave him and other players of color the derogatory term “Kevin”. This was also an “open secret” in the England national team. The racist game is said to have gotten to the point where a professional named his dog because it was black. It was also said that Rafiq was called the “elephant washer” all along.

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“Very early on, there were comments like ‘your group is sitting near the toilets’ for me and other people of Asian descent,” Rafeeq said. The officials would have simply accepted something like this. Players with an Islamic background were blamed for the team’s mistakes during Lent. The former loyalist said the racism he witnessed in Yorkshire was “without a doubt” to be found across the country.

When asked if he thought UK cricket is institutionally racist, Rafeeq answered “Yes I do”. The scale of the problem is “terrifying”. Everyone in sports knows there is a problem. The former professional said he “saw life would turn into hell if I said that”.

Rafeeq concluded his speech by saying, “Do I think I lost my career because of racism? Yes, I think so.” Now he wants to give a voice to many who cannot be heard. Not only in cricket. He noticed since 2018 that no one from the community came forward to support him because they felt powerless, because they were afraid that they could not defeat the system and not be believed. “I hope we will see a big change in five years,” Rafiq said of the reason for his public appearance.

After all, there are elementary consequences, rarely in such cases. “I agree that the handling of the report highlights problems with institutional racism,” Tom Harrison, chair of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), admitted to MPs. The European Central Bank has banned Bayern Munich’s Yorkshire from hosting international matches for the time being due to the “totally unacceptable” reaction to racism Rafeeq faced. Sponsors, including clothing company Nike, are canceling their contracts. The damage to reputation is enormous.

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Fans and experts were also shocked. Even outgoing club president Roger Hutton declared, out of fanfare, that “Yorkshire culture is stuck in the past”. But he was wrong. Racism is not a phenomenon from the past, it comes in many different forms and in many places it is still sad, present and normal. Especially in a country with such a bloody and persistent colonial past.

This time it was the UK, but Germany could just as easily have been. Whether in professional or amateur football, whether in the stands or on the field, racial insults are still perpetrated in this country. This time it was cricket. But it can be any other sport, any other sphere of life. The depth of racism in Great Britain became apparent not only recently, after the European Football Championship final, when three black England players were defamed for failing in a penalty shootout.

People of color have long known, of course, that many people suffer from racism as usual. Now you also know ‘God’s Special District’, now cricket knows it. In 2018, around the same time that the Great Companion first exposed racist processes, the European Central Bank published a study showing that people of South Asian descent make up a third of England’s recreational cricketers, but only 4% of professionals. In the past 10 years, the latter number is said to have fallen by as much as 40 percent.

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