Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq has said “deep rooted” racism at the club left him close to taking his own life.
The ex-England U-19s and Yorkshire captain walked away from cricket after his time with the county side, but has now spoken out after what he claims was “years of racist abuse”.
The 29-year-old told Sky News he reported incidents of abuse to senior officials at Yorkshire before his departure from the club.
Yorkshire County Cricket Club (CCC) say they have launched a formal investigation and have tried to contact Rafiq to discuss his experiences.
The former cricketer said: “I know how close I was to committing suicide during my time at Yorkshire.
“At my worst, I was right on the edge, stood on my balcony. I would regularly come home from training or nights out with the team and cry. It was a very difficult time for me.
“In one of my first few games, we were going onto the field and there was me, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved and one of the senior players said, ‘There’s too many of you lot, it’s something we need to have a word about.;”
Mr Rafiq, who was an all-rounder at Yorkshire, said at the time it was taken as “banter” but he didn’t find it funny and was offended.
He added: “We would be on nights out, I would be speaking to someone and I’d have teammates coming over and saying, ‘Don’t speak to him he’s a p***’.”
“Racism in cricket is deep-rooted. There were constant social events where I’d leave crying. Sometimes these things get disguised as banter but it’s always stuck with me.”
Mr Rafiq was born in Pakistan and moved to England when he was 10.
Since the age of 11 he has been involved in the cricket set-up in Yorkshire.
When playing for the county he said people would “stereotype me and say ‘he stinks'”.
He added: “On a pre-season trip to Dubai, one of the players said, ‘Don’t speak to him, he isn’t a sheikh, he hasn’t got any oil.'”
Yorkshire CCC chairman Roger Hutton said in a statement: “Any allegation of this nature is hugely concerning to everyone from the board to the playing staff here, and we take the reports very seriously.”
Rafiq said he wanted to speak out so that other players wouldn’t feel the pain he went through, but believes racism in cricket isn’t just at the professional level.
He said: “This is happening at the grassroots level too. I’ve had so many messages from parents of kids and people who play club cricket talking about their experiences of racism and lack of opportunity to develop through the ranks.
“This needs to change straight away.”
Yorkshire CCC said in a statement: “On Monday this week the club took the decision to launch a formal investigation into the specific allegations made by Azeem Rafiq, and a wider review of YCCC’s policies and culture.
“We are in the process of finalising the structure of this investigation and we will be approaching impartial external parties to be part of the review to ensure complete transparency.
“Further announcements will be made to detail this process in the coming days.”
:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email email@example.com in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.