England cricket captain Joe Root called for “change and actions” from his county team, Yorkshire, in response to a crisis over its handling of a former player’s racism allegations that have rocked the sport.
“These events have fractured our game and torn lives apart," Root said in a statement issued Thursday in his first public comments since Yorkshire settled an employment tribunal case with Azeem Rafiq, who had reported a culture of racism and bullying at English cricket's most successful team.
Yorkshire has already lost sponsors and the right to host England international matches at its Headingley home in the wake of an escalating scandal that has set in motion additional investigations and led to boardroom changes at the county club.
The 30-year-old Root has played for Yorkshire his entire career and has been a teammate of Rafiq, who was the team's youngest ever captain.
“I want to see change and actions that will see YCCC (Yorkshire County Cricket Club) rise from this with a culture that harnesses a diverse environment with trust across all communities that support cricket in the county,” Root said, adding that he will "offer support however I’m able” to the team's leadership.
Rafiq, a former England under-19 captain, said in interviews last year that as a Muslim he was made to feel like an “outsider” during two stints at Yorkshire from 2008-18 and was close to taking his own life.
A formal investigation was commissioned by Yorkshire in September 2020 into 43 allegations made by Rafiq, with seven of them upheld in a report released only in September under pressure from lawmakers. It found Rafiq was the victim of racial harassment and bullying.
It also said a racial slur directed at Rafiq was delivered “in the spirit of friendly banter,” according to Yorkshire. The club said it would not take any disciplinary action against any of its employees, players or executives but its newly appointed chairman, Kamlesh Patel, apologized to Rafiq this week, praising him for his bravery.
The England and Wales Cricket Board has started its own investigation and criticized the club for its “wholly unacceptable” response to the racism faced by Rafiq.
In his statement, Root said racism and discrimination were problems that reached far and wide, beyond the world of cricket, and invited everybody to play their part in combatting it.
“In my opinion, this is a societal issue and needs addressing further afield than just cricket,” he said.
“That being said, we, as a sport, all have to do more. How can we all help shape things moving forward positively? What can everyone from myself, the ECB, counties, players, officials and others in the sport do to improve the state of the game? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think we need to educate more and earlier; we must call it out straight away and have our eyes and ears open more."
Root is the captain of England's test side and will lead the team in an Ashes series in Australia starting next month.