By YUNUS LUNAT
The disclosures by former Yorkshire CCC player Azeem Rafiq of bullying and accusing the County of endemic racism and institutional discrimination has sent shockwaves through the County and cricket world.
For those of us who work in and campaign for equality the process being played out is all too familiar. First the PR machinery springs into action with Yorkshire CCC putting out the usual statement of valuing its commitment to equality, followed by the setting up of an investigation.
Having just gone through the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests (which for the benefit of the sporting world is more than the symbolic gesture of taking the knee) the burning question is whether this will be another lost opportunity for change? Meaningful change is what the protests were all about, which does not seem to have registered with those who hold power. Sports Governing Bodies (and wider industry and society for that matter) also need reminding that this drive for change is not a new concept born out of BLM, but a historical struggle that has fallen on deaf ears.
Call me a cynic but the early signs are not promising. After putting out the typical statement Yorkshire CCC claim to have appointed an independent law firm to carry out an investigation. The firm have extensive expertise in carrying out investigations. Note that the statement does not state that it will be an independent investigation. The firm appointed are renowned for defending employment claims brought against businesses and organisations. That means they are renowned for helping cases to be found not proven. Some of these cases will of course include discrimination claims.
The appointed firm is also part of a profession facing its own issues and challenges on racial diversity in terms of progression to senior roles and partnerships.
The immediate issue for those of us campaigning for change is that this all seems to be reinventing the wheel. Here was an opportunity for a high profile organisation to be the standard bearer and demonstrate that it had truly taken on board the message of the BLM campaign for change by appointing an investigator with a track record in equality, or as a minimum, offer Azeem an opportunity to have an input in the appointment of the investigator.
This does not inspire confidence in the process. We have seen this film before. The main roles are played by white actors. Any internal disciplinary process resulting from the investigation is usually determined by a panel of white actors. If the victim has to go external to seek justice at an employment tribunal then the case is invariably heard by a white judge. The sad reality is that the vast majority of such claims will be settled and the evidence never gets to be tested. The first words of any agreement are “Without admission of liability….” which allows this scenario to be replayed time and again. The alleged perpetrator(s) are seldom held accountable, and they are free to pursue and even progress with their careers.
It is interesting that the remit of the investigation includes the wider policies and structures of Yorkshire CCC which begs the question of what input and influence if any the County’s extensive engagement with the Muslim communities and the much lauded ECB South Asian Strategy, not to mention the BAME appointments to its Board, have had on its internal governance and processes? How has the diversity of its workforce, and especially the senior executive workforce improved in recent years? The fact that such matters have needed to be included as part of the investigation probably provides the answer.
Aside from the investigation process, where is the ECB and the Professional Cricketers’ Association. The latter champion the interests of professional cricketers. Its website professes “once you’re a member, you’re a member for life.” As for the ECB one would at least expect its governance arm to be taking an interest with a view to potential disciplinary charges against any individuals who are still “participants” who are found to have a case to answer. This will encompass anyone still involved in the game in any capacity, either on or off field. My personal knowledge and experience of the active and visible engagement of the FA governance and equality process and also of the PFA in a similar situation leaves me with reservations of the apparent lack of real engagement by the ECB. There is not even a mention of the Azeem allegations on either organisations’ website.
Unfortunately for those of us who have been campaigning for real change, this all seems to be a case of déjà vu and does not inspire confidence. The frustrating question that the authorities need to explain is how much longer can the BAME communities be expected to continue to rely upon those in power, who effectively got us into this situation, setting the agenda and be relied upon to bring about change?
Yunus Lunat is a partner and head of Employment Law at Ison Harrison, Leeds. Yunus was the immediate past Chair of the FA Race Equality Advisory Board and BAME representative on the Liverpool FC Supporters’ Committee. Yunus is also a member the FA National Anti – Discrimination Chairs’ Panel.