Azeem Rafiq has lifted the lid on the pervasive racism that plagues English cricket. It is further evidence that the whole establishment is rotten to the core. To remove racism from sport, we need to remove capitalism from sport.

Azeem Rafiq has lifted the lid on the pervasive racism that plagues English cricket. It is further evidence that the whole establishment is rotten to the core. To remove racism from sport, we need to remove capitalism from sport.

English cricket has been shaken following allegations of institutional racism made by ex-Yorkshire cricketer, Azeem Rafiq. The floodgates have now opened with many more cricketers coming forward with their own experiences. They are bringing the true scale and scope of racism in the sport into horrid focus.

A hotline opened for the reporting of racist discrimination in cricket saw 36 come forward in just the first week, and at least 1,000 reports filed since March this year.

At the centre of the scandal is Yorkshire County Cricket Club (CCC). The chair and chief executive of the club have resigned, and the head coach has been suspended and is under investigation for racist tweets. 

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has since suspended Yorkshire CCC from holding internationals at their Headingley stadium. Sponsorships from Nike, Yorkshire Tea, and Tetley's beer among others have also been pulled from the club.

Institutional racism

Initial claims of racist abuse were made to Yorkshire CCC in 2018, going back to 2008 when Rafiq joined the team. These were ignored by the club's executive until the allegations were made public in September 2020. 

Some of cricket's biggest names have been implicated in the racism scandal, including former Yorkshire and England captain Micheal Vaughan. In 2009, Vaughan told four players of South Asian descent, including Rafiq, that “there are too many of you lot, we need to do something about it”. These remarks have cost Vaughan his jobs at BBC Ashes and BT Sport.

Racism's horrific reach unfortunately goes much further than Yorkshire CCC. 

For example, Zoheb Sharif – who played for Essex CCC between 2001 and 2004 – was routinely racially abused by his teammates. The Essex CCC chairman was forced to resign after using racist language in a 2017 board meeting. 

Another Essex player, Maurice Chambers, reported "teammates offering bananas in a mocking manner" and coaching staff openly "reading out racist jokes in the dressing room".

Class background plays a major role in cricket, with white cricketers from privately educated backgrounds being 34 times more likely to play at a professional level. Under austerity, the defunding of cricket in many state schools unfairly affects poorer students. At least 30% of recreational cricket players are of South Asian descent, yet only 4% of professional players are South Asian.

It should be no surprise that South Asian cricketers have moved to form their own league, the National Cricket League (NCL), in an attempt to escape racism in sport. Existing separately to the ‘traditional’ clubs, 95% of its 1,200 players are British South Asian.

Commenting on the racism scandal, Sajid Patel – co-founder of the NCL – said: “This isn’t just about Azeem Rafiq. He has spoken up and brought these issues to the surface, but I have been hearing reports of racism against Asian players for decades. How can you expect people to perform when the environment is toxic, or they’re subject to racist abuse?”

All players should feel comfortable and welcome to play cricket, without having to create separate leagues. The fact that players have been forced to do this is an indictment on the culture that exists in the game.

Cynical counter-allegations

Soon after Rafiq’s allegations were made public, antisemetic messages made by him to another player in 2011 appeared in the press. While Rafiq has openly and publicly apologised for his antisemetic messages, it is telling that many prominent cricketers, including Vaughan, continue to downplay and deny racism in the sport. 

After all, the fallout of this racism scandal is threatening the profits of the ECB, Yorkshire CCC, and prominent cricket figures. As more cricketers speak out, counter-allegations in the press are intended first and foremost to halt the tidal wave of allegations, and dissuade victims of racism from coming forward. 

The press will try to end careers and make victims’ lives even more difficult – all in the service of the cricketing establishment. The capitalist press doesn’t really care about antisemitism. Rather they cynically used Rafiq’s messages to undermine and distract from his allegations of institutional racism in cricket.

Knock racism for six

Earlier this year, the government published a scandalous report that concluded there is no ‘structural racism’ in Britain; and furthermore, that the UK is in fact a ‘model for the rest of the world’ when it comes to race relations. This is of course nonsense.

By going public, Rafiq has lifted the lid on racism in cricket for millions to see. It is further evidence of the structural racism that pervades the establishment at all levels, including the Tories, the police, the press, and sport. As such, more and more people are drawing the conclusion that the entire system is rotten.

At the end of the day, racism in cricket or any sport is not specific to that game, but rather a reflection of the racism that exists in wider society. Players don't become racist by playing the game, but pick up on subliminal messages in the capitalist media, etc. This is then replicated in their thought and language, and a racist culture is developed. 

Therefore in order to eradicate any form of racism in sport, we must tackle it at its root – the Tories and the capitalist system they represent.

Fundamentally, racism is a tool used by the ruling class, to pit people against one another and divide the working class. This tactic of divide and rule is nourished by the artificial scarcity of jobs, housing, and services, that are an inevitable product of capitalism.

If the ECB, Yorkshire CCC, Essex CCC, and other cricket organisations were serious about tackling racism, then why has it taken them so long to act over these allegations? The truth is that they don’t care. They’re quite happy to see South Asians form their own leagues and clubs.

Marxists stand for the maximum unity of the whole working class against the real enemy – the Tories and bosses. Inquests, sackings, and resignations aren’t enough to end racism in sport. 

Only by fighting racism on a clear class basis – in the struggle for socialism – can we end racism in cricket, in sport, and in society as a whole.