Banter?

The scandal surrounding Yorkshire Cricket Club and the treatment of Azeem Rafiq and others seems to revolve around what has been called ‘banter’. Asian-heritage players’ concerns and reports of offensive language and stereotypes were initially dismissed and disbelieved and then labelled ‘playful banter’ by those in charge, with all the implications of the victims being over-sensitive or lacking a sense of humour. As more and more players come forward to disclose incidents of abuse, Yorkshire Cricket Club’s reputation sinks lower and lower. Once again, the lessons of Richard Nixon and Watergate have not been learned – it’s the cover-up that will get you in the end.


Yorkshire Cricket Club spent a lot of time and energy (and I suspect money) denying the experiences of someone to whom they had previously given the honour and responsibility of captaincy. They actively chose to ignore the allegations and effectively compounded the abuse. After three decades of progress in the area of Safeguarding and Protection of children and vulnerable adults, what this incident reveals is a failure of institutional-culture change when it comes to dealing with those who disclose wrongdoing. The whole point of Safeguarding was not to increase the amount of paperwork on everyone’s desk, but to embed good practice in the way that institutions operate. The assumption was/is supposed to be that disclosures, when made, are likely to be true and it is not the responsibility of the victim to prove their veracity. The experience of Azeem Rafiq and others is that institutions such as Yorks CC have a long way to go to make that a reality.


This is also true in the other situations where individuals are being victimized. Look at how gender-based violence or rape is handled. Conviction rates are scandalously low because it is incumbent on the victim to be as credible as they can be. The assumption remains that alleged victim and perpetrator are equal in terms of power and privilege and have the same access to the law.


Yet even a cursory glance at the enormous amount of anguish Azeem Rafiq went through in order to get his claims taken seriously shows the huge disparities in power and privilege. It is only because of his tenacity and willingness to put his reputation on the line, even to the point of bringing his own career to an end, that we know anything about this. There must have been plenty of times when he thought that nothing was going to happen and there was going to be nothing to show for his sacrifice. Yorkshire Cricket Club are now paying a heavy price for not taking these seriously and some people may think they have become the victims. Not doing anything, or attempting a cover-up is often worse than the original crime. Where allegations are dismissed or where others see things happening and don't intervene, the culpability rests with more than the perpetrators. Initial dismissals turned into denials before an investigation was launched. However, the full report of that investigation remains hidden. The lack of transparency has, in effect, done more damage to the reputation of the club, when we must assume that secrecy and non-disclosure were thought to be helpful in defending it.


This is a lesson that needs to be learned by all corporations and institutions. There is still too much of an assumption that non-disclosure should be the norm and justifications are needed to make information public. Not making things public is argued on the basis that it will protect the most vulnerable, but the reality is often the opposite, i.e., that the privileged and the powerful gain most from non-disclosure. When confidentiality is deployed, it is institutional reputation that is often the major beneficiary. And the case of Azeem Rafiq had come to light a lot sooner, perhaps those on the Club’s Board who were fighting for change might have been more successful and wouldn't have had to resign. The old adage that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done rings true here. We must move to a culture of openness where disclosing wrongdoing is normal and praiseworthy rather than treated with suspicion or exclusion.


Finally, a word about banter. Very recently indeed I was sent the link to a social media site by a friend. I dutifully clicked and was indeed interested in what was posted there. But then I noticed one of the comments posted in the chat below it. The individual (whom I assume wasn’t Irish, Welsh or Scots) posted a comment that referred to those nationalities as ‘Paddies, Taffs and Jocks’. When I raised this with the author of the original post, initially I was told it was probably just playful. I had to press the issue before it was followed up with the moderators of the site.