LEEDS, England (Reuters) - New Yorkshire Cricket Club chairman Kamlesh Patel has apologised to their former player Azeem Rafiq over the county's handling of his racism allegations and promised "seismic change".
The club have been suspended from hosting internationals by the England and Wales Cricket Board and lost key sponsors after widespread criticism of their failure to act on a report that found Rafiq was a victim of "racial harassment and bullying".
Speaking at a news conference Patel, who replaced former chairman Roger Hutton who resigned nL1N2RW0IK last week, praised 30-year-old Rafiq for speaking out.
"Azeem is a whistleblower and should be praised as such. Hhe should never have been put through this," Patel told reporters.
"We're sorry for what you and your family have experienced and the way in which we've handled this. I thank Azeem for his bravery in speaking out. Let me be clear from the outset, racism or discrimination in any form is not banter."
Rafiq, who is of Pakistani descent and is a former captain of the England Under-19s, said in September 2020 that he had received racist abuse and was made to feel like an outsider at Yorkshire and that he had even contemplated suicide.
The Yorkshire investigation into Rafiq's claims reportedly found that a derogatory term used about his Pakistani heritage was regularly used but concluded it was "good-natured banter".
Patel said that anyone believing that the expression was banter would be shown the door.
Admitting he had not read the whole of the report, Patel said what he had seen made him feel "uncomfortable."
"It makes me feel the process wasn't as well completed as it should have been," he said.
Patel outlined the steps he had taken since becoming chairman, including settling the employment tribunal with Rafiq without a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and establishing a whistleblowing hotline for victims of discrimination.
He also said the full report into Rafiq's allegations would be shared with those with a "legal interest", including Rafiq's lawyers, the ECB and MPs.
Patel said he was determined to rebuild trust in Yorkshire and return the club to the pinnacle of English cricket.
"This episode highlights the huge amount of work that still needs to be done, he said. "There is a clear need for urgent and seismic change starting from within and I'm determined to lead this club to a better and more positive picture.
"This club should be the pinnacle of English cricket, and as a proud Yorkshireman myself, it pains me to see it in this situation. I believe there should be a period of truth and reconciliation to get to the bottom of our culture and our processes, to learn from our mistakes and re-establish trust."
Rafiq later issued a statement thanking Patel for ending the legal proceedings.
"It should not have taken the rest of the club a year to realise I would not be silenced through an NDA," he said.
"I spoke out because I wanted to create change at the club. I brought a legal claim because the club refused to acknowledge the problem and create change."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)