Former England cricket star Gary Ballance tonight admitted calling his ex-Yorkshire team-mate and ‘best mate’ Azeem Rafiq a ‘P**i’.
Ballance, who played 23 Tests and 16 one-day internationals between 2013-2017, released a long and emotional statement on Wednesday, just hours after MailOnline revealed he was the player at the heart of the race scandal.
The batsman accepted he was responsible for some of the offensive and derogatory terms that Rafiq revealed he was subjected to during his time at Headingley.
This is said to have included telling other people ‘don’t talk to him (Rafiq), he’s a P**i, asking ‘is that your uncle?’ when bearded Asian men were in view and saying in reference to corner shops: ‘Does your Dad own those?’.
The 31-year-old attempted to offer some context of his ‘incredibly close relationship’ with Rafiq during their time together at the club, claiming both men ‘said things privately to each other which were not acceptable’ but made it clear he had remorse for his part of those exchanges.
However, Rafiq responded on Twitter tonight by saying: ‘Funny how things change from complete denial to I accepted everything over a 14 month period ??’
In his statement, Ballance wrote: ‘It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent enquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so. To be clear – I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years.
‘I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate.
‘I regret that these exchanges took place but at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress. If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately.
‘He was my best mate in cricket and I cared deeply for him. To my knowledge, it has never been alleged that I reduced Rafa to tears.’
Yorkshire Cricket Club has today been urged to sack him amid the claims that he repeatedly abused Mr Rafiq.
A number of sponsors including Yorkshire Tea and Anchor butter walked away from the club, while others such as Emerald Publishing demanded answers.
But last year’s inquiry into Azeem Rafiq’s accusations of alleged institutional racism at Yorkshire cleared a player they declined to name after concluding that regular use of the term ‘P**i’ came during ‘banter’ between the pair.
After the story emerged last week, Yorkshire then reiterated that no disciplinary action would be taken by them in the wake of Rafiq’s allegations.
It is reported that the panel found Rafiq’s reference to the former team-mate who is understood to be Mr Ballance, who is of Zimbabwean heritage, as ‘Zimbo from Zimbabwe’ as a ‘racist, derogatory term’.
The report said that if Rafiq were still at Yorkshire, he would have faced disciplinary action.
The Yorkshire cricketer accused of calling Azeem Rafiq a ‘p*ki’ is believed to be former England star Gary Ballance, MailOnline can exclusively reveal today
Rafiq responded on Twitter tonight by saying: ‘Funny how things change from complete denial to I accepted everything over a 14 month period ??’
The batsman (pictured with wife Alex) issued a long and emotional statement this evening
Mr Rafiq accused allies of the Yorkshire Cricket Club and the player he says repeatedly called him a ‘P*ki’ of mounting a smear campaign against him as sponsors began to desert the club
According to ESPNcricinfo, Yorkshire’s report — passed to the ECB for further investigation but never released — cleared Mr Ballance of wrongdoing as it was perceived the comments were made in a friendly, good-natured manner.
The investigating panel did not accept that the ex-England Under 19 captain was offended by the other player’s comments, either at the time or at a later date, even though he was seen crying.
They said in the context of ‘banter between friends’, Rafiq might be ‘expected to take such comments in the spirit in which they were intended’.
‘The club carried out its own internal investigation which shows there is no conduct or action taken by any current employees, players or executives that warrants disciplinary action,’ read a club statement.
‘We do, however, acknowledge we must work hard to restore trust from those who feel let down.
‘There is much the club can learn from the independent report and we are committed to incorporating the panel’s recommendations into our diversity and inclusion plans.’
Mr Rafiq accused allies of the Yorkshire Cricket Club of mounting a smear campaign against him as sponsors began to desert the club.
Yorkshire have lost one of their main commercial partners over the club’s handling of the Azeem Rafiq (left) race row. Chairman Roger Hutton (right) is under pressure to resign and will now face Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee over the club’s farcical handling of Rafiq’s complaints
Gary Ballance: The Zimbabwean-born Harrow-educated English batsman at the centre of the Yorkshire CCC racism scandal
Born in Zimbabwe, where his parents were tobacco farmers, Gary Ballance moved to England during his school years.
Having been schooled at two boarding schools in Zimbabwe, where he was part of the country’s youth cricket set-up, he moved to England in 2006.
After moving to England, Ballance, who has British roots through his grandparents, one of whom flew for the RAF during World War II, attended the prestigious Harrow School.
While at the public school in North West London he was a cricketing team mate of current Glamorgan batsman Sam Northeast.
Playing for Harrow, a young Ballance showed his cricketing pedigree by scoring a century against Eton College at Lord’s.
He signed for Derbyshire for the 2006 season, playing exclusively in their second XI. He was noted down at the time in cricketing bible Wisden as a ‘real prospect’.
After another season in the second XI, he moved to Yorkshire, where he signed an academy contract which allowed him to study at Leeds Metropolitan University – though he dropped out after a year.
In 2008 he made his debut for Yorkshire, where he was a room mate of current England Test team captain Joe Root.
He broke into the Yorkshire first team in 2011 and impressed, leading to a selection for the England Lions squad for a limited-overs tour of Australia in February 2013.
He was the most prolific batsman in Division One in the 2013 season and, after also impressing with the Lions, debuted for England’s Test team against Ireland, in Dublin, in September 2013.
But Ballance, a left handed batsman, failed to impress, getting caught behind without having scored a run.
Despite his unimpressive debut, he was picked as part of the England side for the 2013-2014 Ashes series against Australia, which England lost 5-0.
Ballance was only selected for the fifth and final test, scoring 25 runs across two innings.
While he was earning plaudits on the pitch, particularly at county level, Ballance’s life off the pitch was called into question.
He was snapped topless and glassy-eyed in a nightclub in 2014 hours after England were beaten by India – at that point England’s ninth successive test match without a victory.
Then 24, the batsman was carried out of the bar in Nottingham after telling incredulous fans: ‘I’m not a cricketer tonight. I’m just a drunken b*****d.’
Back on the pitch though, Ballance was impressing. For England, it took him just ten Tests, and 17 innings, to reach 1000 Test runs – the third quickest in English cricketing history.
At the time he averaged 67.93, with four hundreds and five fifties.
But things turned quickly at the end of 2015, with Ballance having a difficult tour against New Zealand.
And he was dropped after being dismissed for just 14 as England were bowled out for just 103 and suffered a humiliating 405 run defeat to Australia in the second test of the 2015 Ashes series.
He was recalled in 2016 due to Nick Compton’s poor form, and hit a good patch with runs against Pakistan.
But difficult tests against Bangladesh saw him slip out of the England set up once more.
Ballance was later recalled to play in the first test against South Africa at Lord’s after his form recovered for Yorkshire.
He played the first two tests before a broken thumb ruled him out of the next two matches. Ballance has not played for England since 2017.
Without the pressure of international cricket, Ballance has continued to impress at County level.
He is the only player to have finished in the top six run-scorers in the top flight of the County Championship in each of its last three seasons.
However Ballance missed the entire 2020 domestic season, because of a series of reasons, including suffering from anxiety early in the season, followed by his wife testing positive for Covid-19.
He subsequently missed the start of the 2021 season after a concussion in nets practice.
Earlier this year, Ballance told Sportsmail how the arrival of his newborn son was keeping his mind off a possible England recall – having impressed with the bat.
He said: ‘Playing for England was brilliant. I loved it. I’d love to have the opportunity again. But I feel you need to be in a good place physically and mentally to play Test cricket. If you’re not, then you can struggle.’
Last year he revealed that after cricket he hoped to return to his family’s farm in Zimbabwe.
He told the Telegraph and Argus: ‘They always tell you that you’ve got to look forward to the future.
‘Obviously I’ve still got family in Zimbabwe.
‘My dad’s out there, my brother and my mum, and they’ve been looking to buy some cows. Hopefully we can get a good number of cows and I can get a bit of an income for when I retire.
‘My dad’s only just started it up, so I think it’s in single figures at the moment.
‘Hopefully after a few years we’ll get it up to triple figures. You’ve got to think outside of the box!’
The former England under-19 captain also slammed ‘silence’ from the British Asian and Pakistani communites he believes should be supporting him and declared: ‘Even now people trying to discredit me behind the scenes’.
Mr Rafiq has demanded Yorkshire breaks their silence and release the name of his former team-mate’ in an uncensored version of their investigation into his allegations of racism and bullying when he played for the team.
He tweeted: ‘Even now people [are] trying to discredit me behind the scenes. Guess what they are from my community. It hurts every day!! I will not be scared of any legal actions or things you say about me. You have all tried to END me. Still here & fighting’.
He added: ‘When investigating racism, the process needs transparency, not only so people know what happened, but so we can learn from it’.
The former England under-19 captain is to be given the chance to name the Yorkshire Cricket Club teammate who repeatedly called him a ‘P*ki’ as sponsors threatened to leave the club over its ‘repellent and disturbing’ handling of the race row, it was revealed today.
MPs from the the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee have invited Mr Rafiq to give evidence in a Westminster showdown with his former bosses on November 16 where he will be able to use Parliamentary Privilege to identify his former team-mate.
Britain’s most successful county team is also under increasing political pressure after MPs also summoned chairman Roger Hutton, who is facing calls to resign, to the DCMS hearing with Mr Rafiq. Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire’s director of cricket, is also expected to give testimony.
The former England U19 and Yorkshire captain is suing Yorkshire CCC for damages under the Equal Equality Act after reportedly turning down £100,000 from the club if he signed a non-disclosure agreement. The club has said it has offered him a ‘full apology’ but insists no employees of the club will face any further action.
Today Yorkshire’s sponsor Anchor butter, owned by dairy giant Arla, walked away from the club with Tetley’s brewery and Emerald Publishing demanding answers following the revelation that the club took no disciplinary action against a current player who regularly called Rafiq a ‘P***’, according to the independent report commissioned by the county into the former spinner’s racism allegations.
The abuse took place before he left in 2018, but Mr Rafiq went public in September 2020 and said he was suicidal after Yorkshire CC refused to release the full report they had commissioned into his claims that he was ‘the victim of racial harassment’ and ‘bullying’ during his eight years at the club.
Last week the report was leaked to ESPNcricinfo who reported on Yorkshire’s decision to brand the ‘P*ki’ comments as ‘banter’ and not discipline the cricketer who used it.
DCMS committee chairman Julian Knight said: ‘Why has anyone who ever used the ‘p word’ still in their job?’, adding: ‘Given the endemic racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, I struggle to think of any reason why that the board should remain in post. This is one of the most repellent and disturbing episodes in modern cricket history’.
Yesterday Health Secretary Sajid Javid called for the board to resign yesterday as he tweeted: ‘P*** is not banter. Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If (the) ECB doesn’t take action it’s not fit for purpose.’ Boris Johnson‘s spokesman then urged the England and Wales Cricket Board to ‘investigate this thoroughly and quickly’ and ‘take action where needed’.
Today Sportsmail can reveal that Yorkshire has already lost one of their main commercial partners and several other sponsors are demanding answers.
A spokesman for Arla Foods, the Danish food company who produce Anchor, said that their butter brand will not renew their sponsorship of the county’s 50-over team, while Tetley’s brewery and Emerald Publishing are also talking to Yorkshire about their ongoing involvement.
Anchor’s decision to walk away will increase the pressure on Yorkshire’s other sponsors to act following the revelation by ESPNcricinfo that the club took no disciplinary action against a current player who regularly called Rafiq a ‘P***’ according to the independent report commissioned by the county into the former spinner’s racism allegations.
Emerald have been the title sponsors of Headingley since 2017, while the support of Leeds-based brewery Tetley’s goes back decades.
‘We are dismayed by the conclusion of an independent panel that the former player, Azeem Rafiq, suffered racial harassment and bullying during his time at the club,’ read an Emerald statement.
Yorkshire Tea has also walked away from the club, saying in a statement: ‘We were upset to read about the experiences of Azeem Rafiq during his time at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
‘We wholeheartedly believe that cricket should be a sport for everyone, but his experiences and the way the panel report has been handled don’t reflect that.
‘Our current partnership with YCCC was naturally coming to an end but we have taken the decision to end it with immediate effect.’
Yorkshire’s handling of the case has horrified Britain with bosses accused of trying to sweep racism under the carpet.
Of last Thursday’s announcement that no action would follow, a spokesperson for Rafiq said: ‘This is despite Yorkshire’s admission that Azeem was the victim of racial harassment and bullying, and despite their admission they failed to follow their own policy and investigate allegations of racism as recently as 2018.
‘It is inconceivable that there are no current employees who should not have been disciplined. It is time that board members — for once — did the decent thing and resigned.’
The redacted report, released on September 10, recorded that ‘the panel did not find Rafiq’s evidence wholly credible. Rafiq and the player engaged in friendly verbal attack towards each other, and no malice was intended by either to the other’.
Rafiq’s disturbing account of his time at the club first came to light more than a year ago but recent developments commanded the attention of senior Westminster figures on Tuesday, with Javid’s strongly-worded intervention following the news that Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton will be called to face the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.
An independent report commissioned by Yorkshire previously resolved that Rafiq, who played for his home county in two stints between 2008 and 2018, had been a victim of ‘racial harassment and bullying’. Despite offering an apology, the club went on to state that none of its employees would face any further action.
ESPNcricinfo this week published alleged details of the report, including a senior player’s admission that he had repeatedly used the word ‘P***’ in reference to Rafiq, which was subsequently deemed to be ‘in the spirit of friendly banter’.
Javid, the first British Pakistani to head a government department in 2014, posted on Twitter: ‘P***’ is not banter. Heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC. If @ECB-cricket doesn’t take action it’s not fit for purpose.’
The closing words amount to a challenge directly aimed at the game’s governing body, which has only recently received a full copy of the Rafiq report as part of its own ‘thorough and fair’ investigation.
A No 10 spokesperson, responding to Javid’s comments, said: ‘These are very serious allegations which have clearly had a very significant impact on Azeem Rafiq and it’s important they are investigated thoroughly and quickly.
‘We urge them to look at this with the utmost scrutiny and take action where needed. Language like that should never be used in any context or form whatsoever.’
Asked whether the word ‘P***’ could ever be used as ‘banter’, the spokesman added: ‘No, this is racist language and should not be used in any context whatsoever.’
In a statement, the ECB apologised for the matter not being resolved and acknowledged the effect of that on the wellbeing on Rafiq and his family.
The ECB said: ‘We will conduct a full regulatory process that is fair to all parties, but also ensure this happens as quickly as possible.
It comes after Azeem Rafiq (pictured playing for Yorkshire in 2016) claimed he experienced racism during his stint at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club
A spokesperson for Arla Foods, the Danish food company who produce Anchor Butter, told Sportsmail that they will not renew their sponsorship of the county’s 50-over team
‘To achieve this, we have secured the services of a QC, along with other external investigatory support to upweight resource around our process. The ECB board has also reaffirmed its commitment to further additional resource, should the investigation require it.’
Looking ahead, Hutton will now be preparing to provide evidence to the DCMS select committee – a session which could yield hitherto unpublished revelations as it will be covered by parliamentary privilege.
DCMS committee chair Julian Knight demanded the resignation of members of Yorkshire’s board over what he described as the ‘endemic racism’ at the club.
He said: ‘We want to see much greater transparency from YCCC – it is time for them to answer their critics. We intend to call the Chair of the club before the DCMS Committee to give a much fuller explanation than we have had so far.’
Nadine Dorries, secretary of state for DCMS, added her own thoughts on Twitter, posting: ‘Azeem Rafiq’s treatment after the racism he faced was disgusting, and the investigation that followed only makes it even worse. The @ECB-cricket investigation must be swift and fully transparent. Racism must be confronted, and NEVER written off as just ‘banter’.’
Julian Knight, the chairman of the select committee, said in a statement: ‘This is extremely concerning and it’s clear that Yorkshire County Cricket Club has questions to answer.’
Yorkshire have been contacted for comment by PA, while the man at the centre of the issue, Rafiq, tweeted his own response in the evening.
‘Over the last 14 months I have told both @PCA and @ECB-cricket that someone needs to show leadership & take this out of @YorkshireCCC hands. No-one believed me, no-one listened everyone tried to protect themselves and left me all alone to fight. TIME FOR THE FULL TRUTH,’ he wrote.
The Professional Cricketers’ Association told the PA news agency: ‘The PCA continues to discuss this extremely important issue with stakeholders and is supportive of the ECB’s regulative process now the governing body has received the full report.’
The developments in Rafiq’s case have also attracted the attention of anti-racism campaign group HOPE Not Hate, with its chief executive Nick Lowles telling PA: ‘In 2021, we have a right to expect racism and intolerance to be taken seriously. We cannot sit idly by while institutions try to brush these problems under the carpet – we all have a part to play in refusing to accept racial intolerance and taking a stand against organisations who fail to tackle racism.
‘Azeem Rafiq deserves justice. Cricket, like any sport, unites people across many backgrounds – but when institutions fail to safeguard and protect players from abuse, the premise of unity falls apart.’
Yorkshire are also feeling the pinch commercially. Anchor, sponsor of the county’s Royal London Cup kit last season, announced it was ending its support, with a tweet reading: ‘There is never a place or an excuse for racism. We have no further activity supporting YCCC.’
The Emerald publishing group – a primary sponsor of the county, which has naming rights at Headingley Stadium – has described its ‘dismay’ at recent reports and expects further action to be taken.
A statement to PA read: ‘We take all matters related to any form of racism or discriminatory behaviour seriously and expect all our partners to uphold our values.
‘As sponsors of the Headingley stadium, we are dismayed by the conclusion of an independent panel that the former player, Azeem Rafiq, suffered racial harassment and bullying during his time at the club.
‘Whilst the club has offered its unreserved apology for this, and has made a number of positive changes in the intervening years, there is clearly still a great deal more to do.’
Gary Ballance statement in full
‘My family and I are deeply saddened and upset by the allegations recently levelled at me in the press and by the misleading and selective nature of the reporting in the last few days. Azeem was not just a teammate of mine but he was my closest friend and supporter in cricket.
‘Throughout this process I have cooperated with the independent investigation and I have been completely honest and transparent with the club and the investigators at all times. Information and allegations have been leaked and reported in the press which in my view give a misleading impression of the evidence which was heard in the investigation. I had not intended to make any public statement but, given the reports which have been published, and with journalists arriving at my house, I feel I have no choice but to provide a public response.
‘To be clear – I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years. The independent enquiry, having heard all of the evidence, accepted that the context of some of the language used was in a ‘friendly verbal attack’ between friends which was not intended to offend or hurt and that no malice was intended.
‘Given my incredibly close relationship with Rafa over the years I am saddened that it has come to this. Rafa and I started playing for Yorkshire at a similar time and we quickly developed a very close bond. He encouraged me to play club cricket for his club Barnsley CC, which I did, we went on many tours together, with both Yorkshire and the England Performance Programme, and we always supported each other on and off the pitch. We socialised a lot together away from the game and would also drink and enjoy ourselves together.
‘On the pitch we supported each other greatly. We both captained Yorkshire at various times and we backed each other when we filled these roles. Rafa has always been a huge supporter of mine and was always there for me in the highs and lows of my career with Yorkshire and England. When he was first released by Yorkshire I was there for him during that tough time and I was delighted when he earned a new contract and a second spell with the club. He was very pleased for me when I was selected for England and I was delighted to receive his supportive messages during my time with England. He was also always a big support to me at some difficult times in my career, and I have always been very grateful to him for that.
‘Because we were such good friends and spent a lot of time together drinking and on nights out we both said things privately to each other which were not acceptable. It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent enquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so. I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate.
‘I regret that these exchanges took place but at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress. If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately. He was my best mate in cricket and I cared deeply for him. To my knowledge, it has never been alleged that I reduced Rafa to tears.
‘That does not mean that what passed between us was right or appropriate. It was not. Rafa said things to me that were not acceptable and I did the same with Rafa. I never said anything with any intended malice or to upset Rafa.
‘Rafa and I remained closest friends throughout the time we exchanged these inappropriate comments. One winter, I suggested that Rafa and his bowling coach travel to Zimbabwe to stay with my family, which they did. He lived in my family’s house in Zimbabwe and spent time with my parents and my brothers while he trained in Zimbabwe. He would later become very good friends with my brother and the two of them stayed together regularly when my brother was in the UK. Rafa was always very grateful for the support and love which my family gave him and he regularly expressed this to me. I was honoured to be invited to his wedding in Pakistan which I sadly could not attend.
‘I am aware of how hurtful the racial slur is and I regret that I used this word in immature exchanges in my younger years and I am sure Rafa feels the same about some of the things he said to me as well.
‘My intention, during this whole process, has been to be honest and cooperate with the independent investigation. In light of recent media reports it is only right, on behalf of me and my family, that I put my position in the public domain.
‘I will not be making any further statement on this matter.’