Azeem Rafiq is a British Asian cricketer who played professionally for Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC), Derbyshire County Cricket Club, and Lincolnshire County Cricket Club, making his senior debut at the age of just 17 and captained the England under-15 and under-19 sides. In 2012, he became the youngest man to captain a Yorkshire side as well as the first person of Asian origin to do so.
In 2018, Azeem’s world changed forever. He lost his baby son, and soon after he also lost the career that he had worked his entire life for. While at YCCC, Azeem suffered racism and bullying and it took him many years to fully understand the impact of his suffering, particularly his treatment by the club during a very difficult time. In 2020, he spoke out about the discrimination that not only he faced but discrimination across the game and took legal action against the club hoping to create change across the sport.
His brave actions forced an overhaul of the toxic culture and behaviour both present at YCCC and in the sport more widely. As a consequence, several other cricketers have felt empowered to come forward with their experiences of discrimination. Azeem hopes that future generations of aspiring cricketers will be able to play the game they love without fear of humiliation. A Cricket Discipline Commission proved charges Azeem led and have brought the game into disrepute through their clear use of racist and discriminatory language. For Azeem, this experience was about confronting the institutionalised racism that’s been going on for decades in English Cricket and starting to promote change in a community that is very naïve and hesitant to change.
Azeem is keen to use his experience to help society to understand the lived experience and impact of conscious and unconscious bias, as well as having a renewed purpose and mission to campaign for a meaningful change in global sport. Rafiq has entered a new and exciting chapter and has authored his book “It’s Not Banter, It’s Racism: What Cricket’s Dirty Secret Reveals About Our Society”.