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Yorkshire suspended by ECB from hosting international cricket

ESPNcricinfo logo ESPNcricinfo 04-11-2021 ESPNcricinfo staff

Headingley during the England-India Test match in August © Associated Press © Associated Press Headingley during the England-India Test match in August © Associated Press

Yorkshire have been suspended from hosting international and major matches, including the Hundred final, following an ECB board meeting to discuss the implications of the Azeem Rafiq racism investigation.

The club had been due to host the third Test against New Zealand at Headingley in June next year, as well as an ODI against South Africa and the potential for knockout fixtures in the Hundred, as the host venue of Northern Superchargers. They were also scheduled to host an Ashes Test in 2023.

However, in a statement, the ECB said that the club would be stripped of its major-match status until such time as it has "clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and first-class county".

A senior Yorkshire player, Gary Ballance, who on Wednesday admitted to using racist language towards his former team-mate Rafiq, has also been suspended indefinitely from England selection.

"It is clear to the Board that YCCC's handling of the issues raised by Azeem Rafiq is wholly unacceptable and is causing serious damage to the reputation of the game," the ECB said in a statement. "The ECB find this matter abhorrent and against the spirit of cricket and its values.

"There is no place for racism or any form of discrimination in cricket and where it is found, swift action must be taken. This matter must be dealt with robustly if the sport is to demonstrate its commitment to truly being a game for everyone."

The removal of major matches is the latest blow to a county that has been fighting to manage its reputation ever since the conclusion of an investigation into allegations of institutional racism, stemming from a series of interviews by their former captain Rafiq, including with ESPNcricinfo, last year.

After initially refusing to make public the findings of an independent report, the ECB finally received a full copy last week, including the revelation - reported by ESPNcricinfo - that the racial slur "P**i" had been deemed an equivalent term to "Zimbo", the nickname that Rafiq was understood to have used for Ballance.

This led to an outpouring of condemnation towards Yorkshire, mostly notably from the UK health secretary, Sajid Javid, who demanded that "heads should roll" in a reply to the ESPNcricinfo story on Twitter.

A raft of sponsors have subsequently severed ties with the club, including Headingley's title sponsors, Emerald Group Publishing; Nike, the club's kit sponsor, and long-term local supporters, Yorkshire Tea and Tetley Bitter.

There is potential for further embarrassment for the club, and by extension, English cricket, when senior Yorkshire board members, including chairman Roger Hutton, chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon, appear before the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee on November 16. Rafiq is also expected to give testimony, under the protection of parliamentary privilege.

Julian Knight MP, the DCMS select committee chair, said: "The ECB's action in taking international cricket away from Yorkshire should act as a short, sharp shock to bring the club to its senses. Like the rest of us, I imagine the members of Yorkshire County Cricket Club will be questioning why the board is still in place.

"As for Mr Ballance, I'm choosing at this time not to comment on the specifics of the case. However, it would have been completely unacceptable if they had left him eligible for selection for the England cricket team."

The ECB board has pledged to hold Yorkshire to account in relation to their handling of the matter. "Given recent events, it is clear there are serious questions regarding the governance and management of YCCC," the ECB statement continued. "The club's failure in relation to actions and responses to their own report represent a significant breach of its obligations to the game."

The statement further added that the ECB executive will commission a review of Yorkshire's governance "to consider whether the existing arrangements are fit for purpose", while the board has also confirmed that the Cricket Disciplinary Committee, the independent tribunal that adjudicates on all breaches of the board's code of conduct, will scrutinise the findings of the Rafiq investigation and take appropriate action.

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