• AFP-Jiji


Azeem Rafiq, a former English cricketer who this week said he had lost his career to racism, admitted Thursday he had sent anti-Semitic messages as a teenager.

The Times newspaper uncovered messages sent to former Warwickshire and Leicestershire player Ateeq Javid, in which Rafiq is seen to make disparaging comments about an unnamed Jewish person.

Rafiq, tweeting about those remarks on Thursday, said: “I have gone back to check my account and it is me — I have absolutely no excuses.

“I am ashamed of this exchange and have now deleted it so as not to cause further offense,” the 30-year-old Pakistan-born cricketer added.

“I was 19 at the time and I hope and believe I am a different person today. I am incredibly angry at myself and I apologize to the Jewish community and everyone who is rightly offended by this.”

Board of Deputies of British Jews president Marie van der Zyl responded by saying in a statement: “Azeem Rafiq has suffered terribly at the hands of racists in cricket so he will well understand the hurt this exchange will cause to Jews who have supported him.

“His apology certainly seems heartfelt and we have no reason to believe he is not completely sincere.”

Rafiq, a Muslim, was widely praised for giving a disturbing account of the racism he suffered during two spells with Yorkshire to a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, having previously said the abuse had led him to contemplate taking his own life.

The former off-spinner, whose case has led to further revelations at other county clubs, told the committee: “Do I believe I lost my career to racism? Yes, I do.”

He also mentioned a number of former team-mates, including ex-England international Gary Ballance, still at Yorkshire, had used racial slurs towards him.

‘Nuclear option’

The fallout for Yorkshire, one of English cricket’s oldest and most prestigious counties, over the scandal has been devastating, with sponsors making a mass exodus and the club suspended from hosting lucrative international matches.

But Rafiq warned Yorkshire, whose chairman and chief executive have both resigned, could not move forward until head coach Andrew Gale and director of cricket Martyn Moxon had left the Headingley-based club.

Gale is himself currently suspended pending investigations over a historical anti-Semitic tweet, with former England batsman Moxon signed off with a stress-related illness.

Rafiq accused Gale of constant racial abuse and Moxon of systematic bullying, including an outburst on Rafiq’s first day back following the stillbirth of his son.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised Rafiq for speaking out and told ITV: “We’ve got to make sure that not just Yorkshire but sport cleans up its act because it’s plain that there’s too much of this kind of thing.”

Johnson, who once referred to black people as “piccaninnies” and wrote about “watermelon smiles” in the same newspaper article, was asked if Rafiq’s testimony had made him reflect on any of his own previous comments.

“Racism of any kind is absolutely despicable,” he replied.

Earlier on Thursday, the British government warned English cricket’s ruling body it faced the “nuclear option” of independent regulation amid widespread criticism of how it had dealt with Rafiq’s revelations.

England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison, who also testified to the same committee as Rafiq on Tuesday, insisted his organization was “fit for purpose” as both the promoter and regulator of the game.

But sports minister Nigel Huddleston warned that if the ECB “don’t get their act together, then we have the nuclear option of legislating in order to potentially bring in an independent regulator”.

Harrison had to face an ECB board meeting on Thursday and will come under renewed scrutiny during a wider “all-game” gathering of its 41 constituent members at the Oval on Friday, where the Rafiq scandal will be discussed.

But were Harrison to be ousted, it would leave a leadership vacuum after ECB chairman Ian Watmore resigned last month following the controversial decision to call off an England tour of Pakistan scheduled for October.

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