Sponsors quit English cricket club over handling of racism

LONDON (AP) — Former England cricketer Gary Ballance has admitted using a racial slur against Azeem Rafiq, a former teammate at Yorkshire.

The cricket club recently concluded that no employees would face any action over Rafiq’s claims of institutional racism, leading to major sponsors this week abandoning deals over the handling of the case.

Ballance accepted he was responsible for some of the offensive and derogatory terms that Rafiq revealed he was subjected to during his time playing for the county in northern England.

Ballance attempted to offer some context of his “incredibly close relationship” with Rafiq during their time together at the club, claiming both men “said things privately to each other which were not acceptable” but adding that regretted his part of those exchanges.

“It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent enquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so,” Ballance said in a statement on Wednesday. “To be clear — I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years. I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate.”

Azeem Rafiq, a former England under-19 captain, said in interviews last year that as a Muslim he was made to feel like an “outsider” during his time at Yorkshire from 2008-18 and that he was close to taking his own life.

Ballance’s name was redacted in a summary of the independent report into Rafiq’s wide-ranging claims of institutional racism, but ESPNCricinfo.com reported that the panel upheld claims he had repeatedly used a racist slur. The investigation panel determined that those words were delivered “in the spirit of friendly banter” — a conclusion that has caused a wave of condemnation from politicians and campaign groups.

“I regret that these exchanges took place but at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress,” Ballance said. “If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately. He was my best mate in cricket and I cared deeply for him. To my knowledge, it has never been alleged that I reduced Rafa to tears.”

Emerald Group Publishing, which held naming rights to Headingley Stadium, and Yorkshire Tea have followed shirt sponsors Anchor Butter in ending their association with Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

“We do not tolerate any form of racism or discriminatory behavior and the damaging effects this has,” Emerald said in a statement. “We hope that YCCC will listen and respond with serious action to eradicate racism from the club and uphold the values we all expect.”

The England and Wales Cricket Board has promised a “full regulatory process that is fair to all parties” after only last week receiving a full copy of the report.

“We are conscious about the length of time that Azeem has waited for resolution and the toll that must be taking on his well-being and that of his family,” the ECB said. “We are sorry that, as a sport, this has not yet been resolved.”

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