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Azeem Rafiq DCMS testimony: Challenging institutional racism in Britain today

Azeem Rafiq, former Yorkshire County cricketer, provided a witness statement to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) parliamentary committee on Tuesday, 16th November.

Azeem Rafiq’s testimony was powerful. Having captained the England under-15 and under-19 sides, he still faced overt racism and unspeakable bigotry. He was called a “P*ki”, a derogatory term that accompanied the violence meted out by racists against South Asians in the 1970s and 80s. He revealed: “I lost my career to racism,”- a stark reminder of the implications of institutional racism in Britain today.

As a Muslim, he spoke about being pinned down as a teenager while having red wine forced down his throat. He recounted how a fellow player, who was fasting, would be blamed for any mistakes. In both these instances, we see specific examples of Islamophobia in action.

Rather than listen to Azeem’s lived experience and deal with the cases of abuse he had exposed, his fellow players and staff accused Azeem of not sharing ‘White Rose values’ and was rebuffed at every turn.

This is what institutional racism as a lived experience looks like. Here it is directed against South Asians. These experiences mirror the experiences of Islamophobia, a form of racism that targets the expressions of Muslimness, which many British Muslims, whether in a school, college, university, or workplace, face.

Rather than tackle discrimination and bigotry head-on, the plight of victims is ignored and their motives questioned. Over the years, British Muslims have heard this when some in the world of politics and journalism question our commitment to ‘British values.’

But despite the ongoing hatred Azeem and his family have faced, especially online, his testimony is finally shining a light on this cancer. He has been brave and dignified in his persistence.

As Azeem Rafiq seeks justice, we should honour his call to avoid tokenistic gestures that will not effectively deal with the scourge of racism and bigotry. It means recognising there is a problem, and listening to the victims.

His demands are reasonable: fairness, respect, and dignity. These are qualities that transcend cricket and sport. They are sorely needed at work, in our culture, and in our politics. Put simply, he is demanding a “commitment to British values”.

Comment piece by Secretary-General MCB Zara Mohammed, as published in the Daily Express, Wednesday 17th November