Azeem Rafiq’s past attitude towards Jews is no surprise
Cricket has been part of my life since I was a boy. The Sussex County Ground at Hove was in touching distance of the family home and long summer days were spent watching the game and collecting autographs.
The sport has been ideal as a way of connecting with my grandchildren as they grow up. We go together to cricket specialist A J Fordham Sports in Kingston, owned and run by a family from the sub-continent, who meticulously help to kit them out with bats and pads.
I occasionally watch them play as members of the North Middlesex Cricket Club, with teams made up with children from all ethnic backgrounds. The skills of children of South Asian background with bat and ball and the enthusiasm of their parents is uplifting. It is disturbing to think that so few of these precociously talented youngsters will make it through the system into the professional game.
That is among the reasons why Azeem Rafiq’s testimony about racism at Yorkshire Cricket Club and throughout the country game is so devastating. What makes it even more shocking is that some of the best cricket in the world is played in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. There ought to be admiration in English cricket, not neglect and contempt, for the generations of Anglo-Asian cricketers wanting to progress through the game’s hierarchy.
Nevertheless, it is deeply concerning the person blowing the whistle on English cricket has an unfortunate history. There is a strand of embedded racism against Jews in parts of the South Asian community in the UK too easily shrugged off as the exuberance of youth.
In his interview with Jewish News, Mr Rafiq makes all the right noises about wanting the forgiveness of British Jews and educating himself and others about antisemitism. Doubtless he is sincere in his intentions. What is more concerning is that much of the country seems to think antisemitic tropes are somehow more acceptable than those used against the country’s large Asian minority. Unfortunately antisemitism in sport is only too common.
Chelsea Football Club is running a sustained ‘No to antisemitism’ campaign and I have attended and taken part in several events at the ground. Yet at a recent Carabao Cup game, the ritual ‘If You Hate Tottenham Stand Up’ cry rang around the ground (even though the opposition was Burnley) and my son and I sat it out. In front of us a young man, his face creased with hatred, pointed his arm at us and screamed “Yiddo, yiddo”. It was an uncomfortable moment and a product of a routine antisemitism.
Mr Rafiq’s past attitude towards Jews shouldn’t be a surprise. My ceremony to receive an honorary doctorate at the University of Bradford in his native Yorkshire in 2014 was delayed by an anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian student demonstration. At the end of last year’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Leicester, players unfurled a pro-Palestinian banner on the pitch.
In 2014, England exonerated British-Asian cricketer Moeen Ali for wearing wristbands displaying ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’ in spite of International Cricket Council’s ban on political slogans. Pro-Palestinian campaigners are not necessarily antisemitic. But hostility to Israel often leads those expressing such attitudes to adopt antisemitic tropes, as has been seen on the left of the Labour Party.
The aspirations of the South Asian communities in Britain are very similar to those of the Jewish community. This was on display earlier this month at an Asian-Jewish Business Network event paradoxically held at Lord’s cricket ground. In commerce and society in general Asians and Jews have huge amounts in common and work together harmoniously.
The Azeem Rafiq affair shows that amid the harmony there are still deep-seated antisemitic prejudices in British sport and society.
They must be challenged.
Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail’s City Editor