Ex-England international Gary Ballance says he regrets using a racial slur against his former Yorkshire team-mate Azeem Rafiq.
In a lengthy and emotional statement, Ballance said he was responsible for some of the offensive terms Rafiq was subjected to during his time at Headingley.
“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,” said Ballance, 31.
“To be clear – I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years.”
Ballance, who played 23 Test matches for England, said Rafiq was his “best mate in cricket” and that he “cared deeply for him”, adding that “on the pitch we supported each other greatly”.
“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,” added Ballance.
“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.”
Zimbabwe-born Ballance said he and Rafiq “remained closest friends throughout the time we exchanged these inappropriate comments” with his team-mate travelling to Zimbabwe to stay with Ballance’s family. Ballance said he was also invited to Rafiq’s wedding in Pakistan, which he could not attend.
He added: “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.”
ESPN Cricinfo published an interview with Rafiq in September 2020 in which he claimed “institutional racism” at Yorkshire County Cricket Club left him close to taking his own life, which prompted an investigation by the club.
In September this year, Yorkshire released the findings of the report, which said Rafiq was the “victim of racial harassment and bullying” with seven of the 43 allegations made by the player upheld by an independent panel.
In October, Yorkshire said it carried out its own internal investigation after the findings in the report and concluded that “there is no conduct or action taken by any of its employees, players or executives that warrants disciplinary action”.
Rafiq received a heavily redacted version of the findings of the report into his allegations after Yorkshire missed the Friday, 8 October deadline by which it had been ordered to release it in full by an employment judge.
However on Monday ESPN claimed to have seen redacted elements of the report, including that a racist term about Rafiq’s Pakistani heritage was regularly used towards him but the Yorkshire report concluded it was “friendly and good-natured banter”.
Earlier this week, Julian Knight MP, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, called on the board of Yorkshire County Cricket Club to resign after a leaked report emerged apparently containing details of the investigation into the treatment of Rafiq, who left Yorkshire in 2018.
‘I am aware of how hurtful the racial slur is’
Ballance said he felt he had “no choice but to provide a public response” following media reports which, he says, offer a “misleading impression of the evidence which was heard in the investigation”.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Rafiq report timeline
2 September 2020: ESPN Cricinfo publishes an interview with Rafiqexternal-link in which he claims “institutional racism” at Yorkshire County Cricket Club left him close to taking his own life.
3 September 2020: Yorkshire say they have launched a “formal investigation” into the claims made by Rafiq and chairman Roger Hutton says the club would be carrying out a “wider review” of their “policies and culture”
5 September 2020: Yorkshire ask an independent law firm to investigate racism allegations against the club by Rafiq.
13 November 2020: Rafiq says he hopes to bring about “meaningful change” after giving his first statement to the inquiry.
15 December 2020: Rafiq files a legal claim against Yorkshire “claiming direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race, as well as victimisation and detriment as a result of trying to address racism at the club”.
2 February 2021: Yorkshire threaten a lifetime ban for anyone found to have made threats against Rafiq or his family and legal team after ESPN Cricinfo show them messages sent to Rafiq’s legal firm.
17 June 2021: An employment tribunal case between Rafiq and his former club Yorkshire fails to find a resolution. The independent investigation into his racism allegations remains ongoing.
19 August 2021: Yorkshire, yet to release the findings of the report at this stage, admit Rafiq was “the victim of inappropriate behaviour” and offer him their “profound apologies”.
Rafiq accuses Yorkshire of downplaying racism by calling him the victim of “inappropriate behaviour”.
8 September 2021: MPs tell Yorkshire to publish the findings of the report “immediately”.
10 September 2021: Yorkshire release the findings of the report, which says Rafiq was the “victim of racial harassment and bullying” and seven of the 43 allegations made by the player were upheld by an independent panel.
According to Hutton, the report said there was “insufficient evidence to conclude that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is institutionally racist”.
Yorkshire released a summary of the panel’s report and recommendations but said the full report could not be released for legal reasons “in relation to privacy law and defamation”.
8 October 2021: Yorkshire miss a deadline to send the full report to Rafiq and his legal team after BBC Sport understands an employment judge ordered the club to release it in full by Friday, 8 October.
13 October 2021: Rafiq then receives a heavily redacted version, while the ECB says it is still awaiting the full report.
28 October 2021: Yorkshire says it carried out its own internal investigation after the findings in the report and concluded that “there is no conduct or action taken by any of its employees, players or executives that warrants disciplinary action”.
2 November 2021: The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee calls on Hutton to appear before it to answer questions about Yorkshire’s handling of a report into Rafiq’s allegations of racism.
Julian Knight MP, chair of the DCMS select committee, calls on the board of Yorkshire County Cricket Club to resign after a leaked report emerges apparently containing details of the investigation into the treatment of Rafiq.
A story published by ESPN says the report had concluded that a racially offensive term used towards Rafiq was regarded as “banter”.
Knight makes his comments after UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid calls for “heads to roll” at Yorkshire and said that if the ECB did not take action “it’s not fit for purpose”. He further states in a Twitter post that the term allegedly used to describe Rafiq was “not banter”.
3 November 2021: The date of the DCMS hearing is scheduled for 16 November and Rafiq is called to give evidence in person, along with senior Yorkshire officials.
Several sponsors, including primary sponsor Emerald Publishing and Yorkshire Tea, end their partnerships with Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Ballance releases a lengthy statement expressing regret for using a racial slur against former Yorkshire team-mate Rafiq.