Azeem Rafiq yet to receive direct apology from Colin Graves over Yorkshire racism

Graves last month returned as Yorkshire chair having held the role from 2012 to 2015, part of the period for which the club were fined £400,000 for failing to address the systemic use of racist or discriminatory language. That followed revelations by Rafiq, who spoke out about his experiences of racism while playing there.

Graves, who refused to appear as a witness at the parliamentary hearings which followed Rafiq’s complaints in November 2021, appeared before the Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee on Tuesday. There he accepted the opportunity to place on record an apology to Rafiq but, when asked if he had called Rafiq to apologise directly, Graves revealed he hadn’t.

“I haven’t apologised to him personally, no,” Graves told the committee. “If I had the opportunity to talk to him then fine, I would do because he should not have experienced what he experienced.”

But Graves faced further grilling by John Nicolson MP, who questioned why he had not reached out to Rafiq.

“Certainly from my point of view, I didn’t feel that was appropriate at the time,” Graves said. “I’ve apologised today to Mr Rafiq and anybody else who experienced any discrimination or racism. I just had plenty things going on around not to pick up the phone to Mr Rafiq.”

Pressed further by Nicolson about having “plenty of things going on” which prevented him from phoning, Graves replied: “Fine, if that’s how you see it, I don’t see it like that.”

Graves issued a “personal and unreserved” apology to all victims of racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club last month, after it was confirmed that his return to the board would be ratified at an emergency general meeting (EGM) at Headingley on February 2.

“I’ll apologise again today,” Graves told the select committee. “Because anybody from a minority ethnic background who experienced either discrimination or racism at Yorkshire, that should never have happened. It never will be acceptable and it certainly won’t be going forward. I apologise for anybody who went through any discrimination or racism, it is not accepted.”

Graves also repeated his apology over an interview last year in which he dismissed the accusations as “banter”.

“I did an interview in June, July 23 where I used the word ‘banter’. At the time I didn’t realise the insensitivity of that word,” he said. “And again, since then I’ve apologised for using that word and I apologise again. I should not have used it. It was a bad judgement from my point of view.”

Graves reiterated his assertion that he was never made aware of any issues of racism during his previous tenure as Yorkshire chair.

“Basically the way I ran the club previously, maybe the processes weren’t thorough enough to record those kind of things, if it happened and when it’s happened, so from my point of view, I never heard anything about racism through any management meeting, any board meeting, it was never brought to my attention,” he said.

When Graves’ return was mooted in January, Rafiq wrote a newspaper column urging sponsors to leave the club. Graves said that in the 11 days since he had assumed the role, no sponsors had left and a further six had expressed an interest in holding talks.

Graves said his primary focus was to ensure Yorkshire returned to a stable financial footing, after which he would leave, estimating a maximum two- to three-year term.

As part of his return to the club, Yorkshire were set to receive an immediate injection of £1 million, followed by further investment worth £4 million. Graves’ original involvement with the club came about in similar financial circumstances in 2002, when as the founder of the Costcutter supermarket chain, his bail-out saved them from bankruptcy. His family trust, which is managed by independent trustees, is still owed nearly £15 million by the club.

Meanwhile, Cindy Butts, chairwoman of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) which produced a report last year exposing racism, sexism and class-based discrimination in the sport, appeared before the committee and accused former England allrounder Ian Botham of “untruths” surrounding the report.

She told MPs that Botham had been invited to give evidence to the commission, despite his claims that he was not asked to contribute.

Botham described the ICEC findings as “nonsense” and the ECB’s commissioning of the report as a “complete and utter waste of money”.

Butts also expressed disappointment that the ECB “didn’t call out Lord Botham” saying they “should have had a moral backbone on this issue”.

“Firstly, we did invite Lord Botham to give evidence to us,” Butts said. “He didn’t respond. The county which he chairs, Durham, contributed to our call for written evidence and we thank them for that.

“He [Botham] said he didn’t know anybody who had contributed to our report when, in fact, a number of well-known named cricketers such as Heather Knight, the England women’s captain, responded and gave evidence to us. So there are a number of untruths that he spoke about the report.

“But the most disappointing thing for me, I feel, is that Lord Botham is a chair of a first-class county. What confidence to those within the county who may suffer racism, sexism, class-based discrimination . . . what confidence can they have if they are subject to discrimination to come forward and be able to talk about their experiences and have confidence that something could be done about it?”

Richard Thompson, the ECB chair, later told the committee he had phoned Botham after he made the comments “to question why” and “made it very clear to him I didn’t agree” with his views.

On the day that Thompson, Richard Gould, the ECB’s chief executive, and his deputy, Clare Connor, appeared before the select committee, the ECB published a progress report on its plan to make cricket more inclusive in the wake of the ICEC report, saying that 11 of its 12 programmes were on track.

Earlier this month, the ECB announced that Connor, the former England women’s captain who also served as interim CEO prior to Gould’s appointment, would be stepping down from her post for personal reasons at the conclusion of the hearing.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women’s cricket, at ESPNcricinfo

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