The statement made by Chris Philp, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in the House of Commons on 9 November 2021.
I am appearing here this afternoon in place of the Minister for Sport—the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston)—who is in Geneva having meetings with football officials.
I will start by being very clear about something on which I know the whole House will agree: there is no place for racism in sport. Indeed, there is no place for racism anywhere in society. It must be confronted, it must be eradicated and it should never be written off as just “banter”.
The Government are extremely concerned by the reports of racism at Yorkshire county cricket club. Quite simply, the situation faced by Azeem Rafiq was unacceptable. It should never have been allowed to happen in the first place, and it should have been dealt with properly during the initial investigation. We have made it clear to the England and Wales Cricket Board that this requires a full, transparent investigation, both of the incidents involving Azeem Rafiq and of the wider cultural issues at Yorkshire county cricket club. The ECB is now investigating the matter fully. It took action against the Yorkshire club on Friday, stripping it of the right to host international matches, and has suspended a player.
There have been a number of resignations from the Yorkshire board—quite rightly—including that of its chairman. Lord Patel of Bradford has taken over as chairman, and has set out the approach that he will be taking to tackle the issue at Yorkshire. Crucially, he has started by apologising to Azeem Rafiq, but we know that that will not undo the pain that Azeem feels. More action is needed, and we have called on Lord Patel and the ECB to investigate fully, to eradicate racism where it exists, and to tackle the culture that can support it. In addition, the ECB is now undertaking a regulatory process. It must take strong action where it is necessary, and that action must be transparent and swift, for the benefit of cricket.
The ECB has also launched the independent commission for equity in cricket to look at wider issues that go beyond Yorkshire. It is chaired by Cindy Butts, a highly respected anti-racism campaigner. She is a board member of the Kick It Out campaign in football and is also, as you know, Mr Speaker, a lay member of your Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. I have great confidence in her independence and her phenomenal track record in this area. This terrible case—the awful case of the abuse that Azeem Rafiq should never have suffered, but did suffer—shows how much more needs to be done to stamp out racism in the game, and I urge anyone who has experienced discrimination in cricket to approach Cindy Butts’s commission and report what they have experienced. I understand that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has requested information about this incident. That is quite right, and I encourage the EHRC in its work.
Sport should be for everyone, and it should not take cases such as this to bring that to life. The Government applaud Azeem Rafiq’s courage in speaking out, and encourage anyone who has been similarly affected to do the same. This must be a watershed moment for cricket. The Government will closely scrutinise the actions taken by the ECB—the Minister for Sport met the board last week to discuss this topic—and by Yorkshire county cricket club in response to these damning allegations. The investigations to which I have referred must be thorough, transparent and public. That is necessary to restore the public’s faith in cricket in Yorkshire and beyond. Parliament is watching, the Government are watching and the country is watching. We expect real action, and the Government stand ready to step in and act if those involved do not put their own house in order.