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Ex-cricketer Rafiq tells UK lawmakers: ‘I lost career to racism’

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Former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq speaks to British lawmakers at a hearing into racism in cricket

Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq fought back tears as he told British lawmakers on Tuesday he had lost his career to racism, detailing widespread discrimination within the English game in a compelling testimony.

An independent report found the Pakistan-born player was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” while playing for the county club but said it would not discipline anybody – a decision greeted with widespread disbelief.

The fallout for Yorkshire over the scandal has been devastating, with sponsors making a mass exodus, resignations from top administrators, the suspension of a coach and the club barred from hosting lucrative international matches.

Tuesday’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing offered Rafiq the chance to speak with the protection of parliamentary privilege – a freedom that protects him from legal action and which he used to recount how he felt “isolated and humiliated”.

“Me and other people from an Asian background… there were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant-washers’,” the 30-year-old Rafiq said.

“The word ‘Paki’ was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”

The off-spinner, who had dreamed of playing for England, said cricket was blighted by institutional racism “up and down the country”.

– ‘Inhuman’ treatment –

Rafiq, who is a Muslim, also recounted an experience of being “pinned down” and forced to drink alcohol at the age of 15 when he was at his local cricket club.

And in an highly emotional segment of his evidence, which lasted nearly 100 minutes, he spoke of the “inhuman” treatment by Yorkshire when his son was still-born in 2017.

“They weren’t really bothered about the fact that I was at training one day and I get a phone call to say there’s no heartbeat,” he said, his voice cracking.

Rafiq, who had two spells at Yorkshire, said: “Do I believe I lost my career to racism? Yes, I do.”

He also mentioned a number of former teammates, including ex-England internationals Matthew Hoggard, Tim Bresnan and Gary Ballance, the latter still at Yorkshire, had used racial slurs towards him.

”‘Kevin’ was something Gary used to describe anyone of colour in a very derogatory manner,” he said. “It was an open secret in the England dressing room.”

Rafiq, who said he had refused to sign a confidentiality form and take a pay-off from Yorkshire, added 2005 Ashes winner Hoggard had apologised to him for his comments.

– ‘Hurtful’ –

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England Test captain Joe Root

He also said he found it “hurtful” that England Test captain Joe Root, who has spent his career at Yorkshire, had never witnessed anything of a racist nature at the club.

“Rooty is a good man. He never engaged in racist language,” Rafiq said.

“I found it hurtful because Rooty was Gary (Ballance)’s housemate and had been involved in a lot of the socialising where I was called a ‘Paki’.”

Rafiq also said former England batsman and coach David Lloyd had made derogatory remarks about him and Asian cricketers in general, such as “getting subs (subscriptions) out of Asian players is like getting blood out of stone”.

Lloyd apologised via Twitter on Tuesday, with the 74-year-old saying of his “private” October 2020 comments: “I deeply regret my actions, and I apologise most sincerely to Azeem and to the Asian cricket community for doing this, and for any offence caused.”

On Monday, current England spinner Adil Rashid joined ex-Pakistan Test player Rana Naved-ul-Hasan in alleging that former England captain Michael Vaughan had said in front of a group of Yorkshire players of Asian ethnicity in 2009: “Too many of you lot, we need to do something about it.”

Vaughan has “categorically” denied making the comment.

Asked about Vaughan, Rafiq said: “Michael might not remember it… three of us, Adil, myself and Rana remember it.”

Rafiq was scathing in his assessment of diversity initiatives by the England and Wales Cricket Board, saying they were “box-ticking” and “tokenism”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said cricket authorities must take action quickly to stamp out racism.

“Brave testimony from Azeem Rafiq. I commend him for speaking out,” Johnson tweeted.

Read Also: WCQ: Southgate backs Kane to become England’s top scorer

“There is no excuse for racism anywhere in society and we expect England Cricket and Yorkshire County Cricket Club to take immediate action in response to these allegations.”

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, who faced an intense grilling from the MPs, admitted the organisation had failed Rafiq, saying tackling racism would be a priority.

“We will fix it fast,” he said. “We know the survival of our sport depends on it. We will transform this game very quickly.”

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EPL: Aston Villa come back to beat Ndidi’s Leicester City

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Defender Ezri Konsa scored twice as Aston Villa came back from a goal down to beat Wilfred Ndidi’s Leicester City 2-1, rising above them to 10th spot in the Premier League table on goal difference on Sunday after a pulsating encounter.

Harvey Barnes squeezed the ball through Konsa’s legs to open the scoring in the 14th minute, but Konsa got the last touch on Emiliano Buendia’s goal-bound header to put his side level again three minutes later.

Villa had a goal ruled out just before the break, but Konsa gave them the lead nine minutes into the second half as he headed home John McGinn’s corner at the back post.

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Read Also: Chelsea Women clinch belated domestic treble with FA Cup win

Jamie Vardy came off the bench to give Leicester’s attack a shot in the arm but it was the home side who had the better of the chances, and only the goalkeeping of Kasper Schmeichel kept them from adding to their total as they held on to win 2-1.

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Chelsea Women clinch belated domestic treble with FA Cup win

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Sam Kerr notched a brace and Fran Kirby was also on target as dominant Chelsea eased to victory over London rivals Arsenal in the Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley.

Sunday’s one-sided triumph in the 2020/21 showpiece delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic means Emma Hayes’ side complete a belated and historic domestic treble, having also won the Women’s Super League (WSL) title and League Cup last term.

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Chelsea made a dream start to the occasion as they looked to inflict revenge on Jonas Eidevall’s in-form WSL leaders, to whom they lost in the season opener back in September, going in front after only three minutes.

Arsenal repeatedly failed to clear their lines as dangerous duo Kerr and Kirby tried to combine, with the latter left clear to fire coolly beyond the helpless Manuela Zinsberger.

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Kerr was hurt during the build-up to that early goal, but she quickly returned and almost made it 2-0 just minutes later, only to be thwarted by Zinsberger.

Kerr was later denied what looked a clear penalty after being wiped out by Jennifer Beattie while providing a brilliant cut-back for strike partner Kirby.

Vivianne Miedema’s strike was deflected high and wide during a rare foray forward for below-par Arsenal, who were then indebted to Zinsberger again as she scrambled low to her left to tip wide a fine strike from the relentless Kirby, who reached a century of Chelsea goals in the recent 5-0 WSL rout of Birmingham.

Captain Magda Eriksson headed wide from the subsequent corner as the chances just kept on coming, with Guro Reiten just struggling to get a shot away before Kirby’s latest drive was deflected wide.

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Millie Bright volleyed well wide before Kerr curled an effort against the crossbar after brushing aside the challenge of Lotte Wubben-Moy.

Arsenal could realistically have been four or five-nil behind, but began to come into the game after swapping Beth Mead and Katie McCabe and playing Stephanie Catley in a more advanced role, while they had a seemingly cast-iron penalty shout of their own turned down when the otherwise hugely influential Erin Cuthbert handled on the floor.

However, they failed to muster a single shot on target and only a poor pass from Kirby to Kerr saw an incisive Chelsea counter-attack falter before the interval.

The Blues began the second half in confident fashion, though Kim Little began to link play nicely for Arsenal from her no10 role, with Mead showing great feet to turn Eriksson before being dispossessed by a well-timed sliding challenge in the box from Jess Carter.

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Read Also: Moura scores stunner as Tottenham sink Norwich in EPL clash

Catley produced a vital defensive header at the back post and Zinsberger had to be alert again to keep out Kerr’s header after good work from Cuthbert out wide.

However, the prolific Australian would not be denied much longer as she collected a long ball forward and pushed a shot through the legs of Wubben-Moy and in at the near post with Zinsberger unsighted.

Arsenal went for broke with several attacking changes, but it mattered little as Kerr added a delightful third with a sublime dinked finish after Kirby – who went off to a standing ovation with a knee issue – had thumped a strike off ....

 

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Bundesliga: Marsch leaves role as Leipzig head coach

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RB Leipzig, last season’s Bundesliga runners-up, have mutually agreed to part company with head coach Jesse Marsch after a poor start to the season, the German club said on Sunday.

Leipzig suffered a 2-1 defeat at Union Berlin on Friday, a third consecutive league loss that left them 11th in the standings and piled pressure on American Marsch who was not at the game due to being in COVID-19 quarantine.

Marsch, who joined this season to replace Bayern Munich-bound Julian Nagelsmann, has led his team to only five wins in 14 league games.

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“RB Leipzig and head coach Jesse Marsch have mutually agreed to part ways. The decision is the result of an in-depth analysis and intensive discussions after the Bundesliga match against Union Berlin,” the club said in a statement.

Assistant coach Achim Beierlorzer will take charge for their home game against Manchester City in the Champions League, a competition in which they reached the semifinals in 2020 but have already been eliminated from this season.

“I keep only positive thoughts in my mind and wish for the club, the team, the staff and all the fans that RB Leipzig finds its way back to its old strengths very quickly,” Marsch said.

“Given the quality in the team and in the club, I am sure that the club will achieve its goals.”

Former US international Marsch, 48, made his name in Europe when he guided Leipzig’s sister club RB Salzburg to the Austrian league and Cup titles twice.

He became the first American to coach a team in Europe’s elite club competition.

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Read Also: Moura scores stunner as Tottenham sink Norwich in EPL clash

“It was not easy for us to part company … because I hold Jesse in high regard as a person and as a coach,” Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff said.

“Unfortunately, the development we were hoping for and the results needed to achieve our goals for the season have not been achieved.”

Leipzig said Marsch’s successor would be announced in the near future.

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