Yorkshire racism crisis – Yorkshire’s Test status restored pending resolution of internal issues

Yorkshire’s right to host international fixtures has been reinstated by the ECB, on the proviso that the club’s members desist from blocking reforms introduced in the wake of the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal, and that the influence of the family trust run by the former chairman, Colin Graves, is removed.

Assuming these requirements can be met by March 31, Headingley will be able to resume preparations for hosting this summer’s third Test against New Zealand in June, and an ODI against South Africa in July – lucrative contests that Lord Kamlesh Patel, the chairman, had warned were fundamental to the club’s financial viability.

“I welcome this decision and thank the Board of the ECB for supporting the return of international matches at Headingley once again,” Lord Patel said in a statement. “We have worked night and day to bring about tangible change at Yorkshire, and the removal of the sanctions has validated and reignited our drive for positive progress.”

Rafiq said that he supported the ECB’s decision, saying that under Lord Patel, Yorkshire have “shown a real willingness to change and have already come a long way”.

“This is the correct decision by the ECB,” he twetted. “His [Lord Patel’s] leadership has earned the club another chance but the reforms must continue and we must see real change.”

Yorkshire was stripped of its major-match-hosting status in November, following a wave of revelations about the club’s long-suppressed investigation into allegations of institutional racism – including the suggestion, reported by ESPNcricinfo, that the racial slur “P**i” had been considered to be “banter” within the team dressing-room.

At the height of the crisis, the club was also hit by a mass exodus of club sponsors – including Emerald Publishing, Headingley’s title sponsor, and Nike, the team’s kit suppliers – and the reinstatement of their major-match status will also enable them to rebuild that portfolio, particularly in the lead-up to the 2023 season, when the club is due to host a lucrative Ashes Test.

In a statement, the ECB acknowledged “the hard work and good progress made by the club”, after reviewing a written submission from Yorkshire officials at a formal meeting last week, and an independent assessment from the Good Governance Institute & Howard Kennedy LLP.

Overall, the ECB assessed that Yorkshire was able to “show a demonstrable commitment to building a culture of equity, diversity and inclusion”; provide “evidence that it is adopting a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination”; “commit to identifying and tackling historic cases of discrimination”; and “ensure that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is a welcoming environment for everyone”.

However, clear issues still remain at the club, not least those pertaining to Lord Patel’s appointment as chairman in November – an issue that was deemed by a section of club members, led by Patel’s predecessor Robin Smith, to have been unconstitutional.

The matter was raised in the House of Commons earlier this week by Julian Knight MP, the chairman of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, which has been investigating the racism issue ever since Rafiq’s emotional testimony to the committee in November.

The ECB addressed these matters in their announcement, stating that the club would be required to resolve the issues that had been “subject to procedural flaws”, while also calling for “amendments to club rules relating to the appointment and operation of the Board”.

These relate to the ongoing issue of the Graves Family Trust, which is owed approximately £15 million by Yorkshire following a bail-out in the early 2000s which saved the club from bankruptcy. According to Roger Hutton – the former chairman who resigned in the wake of Rafiq’s allegations – Graves’ continued role behind the scenes had been a significant “roadblock” in Yorkshire’s delayed response to the crisis.

“The Board welcomed the hard work and actions taken by Yorkshire County Cricket Club towards putting the Club on a new path,” Barry O’Brien, the ECB’s interim chair, said. “Alongside the progress already made, we considered many factors in reaching our decision. Amongst them, the impact on fans who have bought tickets in good faith and the young people who will benefit from Yorkshire’s improved outreach and pathway provisions. Finally, the Board was mindful that the return of international cricket will support continued change and progress at the Club.

“I very much hope that the traumatic events that have taken place at Yorkshire over the past several months and years will act as a catalyst for increasing the pace of change throughout the game.”

Yorkshire’s progress, both in the lead-up to its March deadline and thereafter, will be monitored quarterly by the ECB, alongside the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

“There is no place for racism in sport or in any part of our society,” Marcial Boo, the EHRC chief executive, said. “In our meetings with Lord Patel at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and with the England and Wales Cricket Board, we encouraged them to take bold steps in eradicating racism. We welcome today’s announcement as a clear sign that progress is being made.

“We will now closely monitor progress against their action plan, which will involve us attending quarterly checkpoint meetings with the YCCC and ECB. If progress is not made quickly enough, we will consider further legal action.

“We hope that other cricket clubs will take this opportunity to examine what they are doing to tackle discrimination and harassment, so that no one involved in cricket, whether as an amateur or a professional, suffers the racism that others sadly faced in the past.”

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