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.
Language is critical in how we perceive the other and understand ourselves. I’ve visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali where the language used by a local radio station to dehumanize Tutsis was seen as instrumental in enabling the genocide to take hold. There are certain words that can be re-appropriated and redeemed by victimized communities themselves, but I'm not sure we ever get to the point where they can be used by people from communities of privilege and power. In Azeem Rafiq’s case, this offensive language was used by someone who self-identified as a close friend, but if you don’t know that your friend is being offended, you're probably not as close as you think.
I want to pay tribute to those people like Azeem Rafiq who continue to fight and struggle - often for years - before they are believed, or action is taken. We need to do more to honour those who were never believed and those whose lives were destroyed or ended prematurely as a result. It is important to remember that this is something not just for those who are from minority or vulnerable communities, or those who have been actively picked on or victimized. It is for all of us, as a diverse community, to speak out when offence is caused and stand by those who are victimized. The only way to make real progress is to ensure there are no safe places for such language or behaviour.