Azeem Rafiq accused of being ready to use ‘race card’

Azeem Rafiq arrives at the Cricket Discipline Commission hearing on Friday (James Manning/PA). (PA Wire)
Azeem Rafiq arrives at the Cricket Discipline Commission hearing on Friday (James Manning/PA). (PA Wire)

Azeem Rafiq was accused of being prepared to use the “race card” on the day Michael Vaughan defended himself against a charge he made a racist remark to his former Yorkshire team-mate.

Matthew Wood, a former personal development manager at the Professional Cricketers’ Association, appeared as a witness in defence of Vaughan at a Cricket Discipline Commission hearing in London on Friday.

In his witness statement Wood, himself an ex-Yorkshire player, said: “In my dealings with Azeem, I was aware of two occasions in which he (directly or indirectly) acknowledged that he would be prepared to use the ‘race card’.

“By that, I understood Azeem to mean that he would make, or allude to, an allegation of racism in bad faith in order to gain an advantage.”

Wood said in his written statement that those two occasions were in 2018, when he and Rafiq spoke about whether the player might be offered a new contract, and in 2019 when Rafiq was in discussions over trying to be accepted on to a level four coaching course.

On the first of those occasions, Wood said in his written statement: “I asked Azeem, ‘And what will you do if Yorkshire don’t offer you a new contract?’ Azeem replied with words to the effect of, ‘I’ll just hit them with the race card’.”

England and Wales Cricket Board lawyer Jane Mulcahy cross-examined Wood and referenced Rafiq’s witness statement, in which Rafiq said Wood’s assertion about the coaching course was “an odd thing to claim”. Mulcahy set out the process by which Rafiq said he had applied for the coaching course.

Mulcahy told the hearing Wood had not made reference to Rafiq ‘using the race card’ when speaking to Yorkshire investigators or the employment tribunal involving Rafiq.

“The reason you didn’t is that Mr Rafiq didn’t play the race card,” she said.

Wood replied: “At the time it wasn’t asked and I wasn’t sure where it was going. My superiors at the PCA knew about Rafiq’s comments and I later added it to my statement.”

In Wood’s second witness statement he recalled a phone call with Rafiq in late 2020, during which he claimed Rafiq said he “never intended for things to get this big”, but that he felt he “had to stick with it now things have got this far”.

Wood said: “I remember asking him, ‘How does this all end Azeem?’ and Azeem replied, ‘Someone has to pay’, to which I said, ‘Pay for what?’ and then Azeem said, ‘I don’t know’.”

Vaughan had earlier told the hearing it was “inconceivable” he had made a racist comment to Rafiq, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan during a match for Yorkshire in 2009.

He said the whole process was a “terrible look” for cricket.

“If you go through the history of me being a player, I don’t know any time I would have gone on to a pitch and said something to my team-mates that would have put them in a bad state of mind to play cricket,” he said.

Vaughan did apologise for historic tweets he had posted, including one about the directory service 118 118 sent in 2010, and said he had enrolled on an online course to educate himself in 2021 when the historic tweets resurfaced.

Vaughan also said he had met with Rafiq in November 2021.

“I apologised to Azeem on behalf of Yorkshire because clearly there have been issues,” Vaughan said.

“I’m disgusted with what Azeem Rafiq has had to go through. We had a three- or four-hour discussion, we had fish and chips from (Rafiq’s) shop, they were nice.

“I had 17 years at Yorkshire, I loved every minute. My experience was not the experience that Azeem had and for that I was hugely apologetic.”

Mulcahy pointed out that, at the time of the meeting, Vaughan had nothing to do with Yorkshire.

“When you’ve been a captain you feel you have to stand up to be counted and speak. I used that opportunity to say I’m sorry,” Vaughan replied.

Mulcahy pointed out Vaughan had not made a personal apology, and Vaughan replied: “I can’t apologise for something I don’t recollect saying.”

The lawyer asked why Vaughan had initiated the meeting, if he personally had not done anything wrong.

“I felt it was getting too big, hurting too many people. It’s not been easy for anybody, this,” he said.

“I don’t think this is the right process to deal with a ‘word-versus-word’ process from 14 years ago. Whatever happens this has a terrible look on the game, a real bad look on how cricket has dealt with this situation.”

Vaughan’s witness statement also said the process had had “a profound impact” on him.

“My health and my personal well-being have suffered badly,” he said.

During the hearing Vaughan was asked about his playing career and points when it intersected with those of other players, including fellow respondent Matthew Hoggard.

“It’s like ‘A Question Of Sport’, this,” he joked.

Meanwhile, Liz Neto, who was head of HR at Yorkshire, recounted phone conversations with Rashid in her witness statement in which the player “indicated to me he was being pressured to corroborate allegations of racism then being made, even though he didn’t want to”.

“He said to me he had told Mr Rafiq, ‘No matter how many times you tell me I heard it Azeem, I cannot remember hearing it’,” said Neto.

England bowler Rashid gave evidence on Thursday and backed up Rafiq’s allegation about Vaughan’s comment.

“That’s just not what he said to me,” Neto said under cross-examination. “He told me on more than one occasion that he couldn’t remember it.”

Vaughan’s lawyer Christopher Stoner KC had earlier criticised the thoroughness of the ECB’s investigation and the governing body’s failure to contact other players involved in the match, the umpires or a Sky camera operator whose footage formed part of the evidence.

Vaughan’s solicitor Paul Lunt later revealed his firm had contacted five of the other six players on the Yorkshire team that day, all of whom had confirmed they had not heard the comment.

The CDC hearing was called after the ECB charged Vaughan, six other individuals and Yorkshire as a club in June last year, in relation to allegations first publicly aired by Rafiq in 2020.

Five of those individuals – Hoggard, John Blain, Tim Bresnan, Andrew Gale and Richard Pyrah – are having charges against them heard in their absence after they opted not to engage with the process.

The other individual – Gary Ballance – has admitted a charge of using racist and/or discriminatory language, while Yorkshire have admitted four charges, including one that it “failed to address systemic use of racist and/or discriminatory language at Yorkshire over a prolonged period”.