Desperate times at Yorkshire County Cricket Club amid racism scandal

Azeem Rafiq (L) and Colin Graves (R) during hearings on racism in cricket. (Screenshots)
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Updated 01 March 2024

Desperate times at Yorkshire County Cricket Club amid racism scandal

  • Following allegations of racism at Yorkshire CCC, a number of complaints were upheld and formally accepted by the club

LONDON: My cricket column this week referred to a follow-up hearing on Feb. 20 by the UK House of Commons Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport into racism in cricket.

It focused specifically on what measures had been put in place since its initial hearing in November 2021, and after the recommendations of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket were published in June 2023.

The key catalysts for this have been Yorkshire County Cricket Club and one of its former players, Azeem Rafiq, who made allegations of racist behavior at the club. A number of the allegations were upheld and formally accepted by the club, although not, it seems, by all parties involved in cricket. Another figure in the saga has emerged, or rather re-emerged, in recent weeks.

Colin Graves was executive chair of YCCC between 2012 and 2015, and then chair of the England and Wales Cricket Board from 2015 until 2020. Prior to that he was part of a consortium that rescued YCCC from insolvency in 2002. Repayment of club debt was consolidated into Graves Trust funds, to which the club currently owes almost £15 million ($19 million).

Graves said that since his stint at the ECB ended four years ago, he “has not been involved with running any form of cricket.”

Ongoing financial difficulties at YCCC, exacerbated by costs generated by payouts to previous employees, have brought it, once again, to the brink of insolvency, and so the club’s board sought a financial rescue package.

A consortium led by Graves put forward a proposal that was accepted by a majority of the 25 percent of members who chose to vote. It seemed like there was a general feeling of inevitability about the outcome, inside and outside of Yorkshire.

Nevertheless, some have voiced concerns about the potential effects of Graves’ return to the club appointment as chair of the board. He accepted an invitation to appear at the last week’s hearing of the Parliamentary Select Committee, during which its members articulated some of those concerns.

Asked whether he intends to bring back any of the previous backroom and coaching staff, his response was: “It has not been discussed by the board. We have our first board meeting on Monday (Feb. 26), and I am sure that the future, the structure, everything will be discussed. But at this point in time it has not been discussed.”

On the afternoon of Feb. 27, an article appeared in The Cricketer magazine, written by George Dobell, who has been closely associated with reporting on and supporting Rafiq’s case.

The article reported that, incredibly, the board of the YCCC was considering bringing back Mark Arthur, who was its CEO from 2014 until his resignation in November 2021. He stepped down days before the initial hearing of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Nov. 16, 2021. During that hearing, Roger Hutton, who served as chair of the YCCC board between April 2020 and November 2021, alleged that the CEO had attempted to prevent further investigation into the racism allegations.

During his tenure, Hutton commissioned a law firm to conduct a review of the allegations of racism. Only a summary of its findings has been released publicly. During his appearance at the Select Committee hearing on Feb. 20, Graves referred twice to this fact, though it was not clear why.

Seven of the 43 allegations made by Rafiq were upheld on Sept. 10, 2021, by an independent panel appointed by YCCC. It confirmed he had been the “victim of racial harassment and bullying.” Perhaps the fact that 36 allegations were not upheld provides YCCC’s new board with some hope for exoneration.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since that verdict. Part of that has been an acceptance, albeit in some cases reluctantly, that racism has been present in the game. Indeed, Graves proffered an apology during the recent Select Committee hearing to those from ethnic-minority backgrounds who had experienced discrimination or racism at the club, including Rafiq.

He said it “should never have happened, it never will be acceptable, and it certainly will not be going forward.”

Arab News asked Rafiq whether he felt the timing of the apologies ahead of the YCCC’s extraordinary general meeting to decide whether Graves would return as chair of the board, and those made during the Select Committee hearing last week, were coincidental and whether they could they be accepted as sincere. He declined to comment.

During the recent Select Committee meeting, Graves was asked whether he or his representatives had sent a legal letter to the publishers of “It’s Not Banter, it’s Racism,” a book by Rafiq that is due to be published in April. He said solicitors acting on behalf of YCCC had asked to see an advance copy. He denied that the tone of the letter was intimidatory and agreed to make public its contents. The reasons for requesting a copy of the book were not clear.

It is difficult not to feel a sense of unease about how the latest turn of events at YCCC might unfold. Graves deflected any detailed discussion during the Select Committee meeting of senior management appointments on the grounds that the club’s board had not yet met to discuss them.

This prompted one of the committee members to note that Graves “did not say that he would not bring back any of the old guard who were fired.” It was further noted that such people were those who had failed to notify the chair of problems that were subsequently shown to have existed.

Graves offered assurances that equality, diversity and inclusion measures put in place in the past two years would be guaranteed and fully supported. A new board member, Sanjeev Gandhi, will be appointed specifically to oversee the development of these EDI measures. Gandhi previously worked with Graves at the ECB on the creation of The Hundred tournament.

There was no mention or recognition of the measures to address EDI issues that were initiated by Kamlesh Patel, senior independent director of the ECB, during his time as chair of YCCC between November 2021 and March 2023. Instead, he has faced heavy criticism as the person who purged the old guard at a damaging cost to the County.

As far as can be seen, none of the British media has picked up the The Cricketer’s story. YCCC has not responded to requests for confirmation of its claims.

The ECB seems to be impotent in terms of intervention in a matter that, so far, is solely the YCCC’s business. It is difficult to avoid the feeling, however, that there is an underlying process of retrenchment at play, in which financial considerations are to the fore.

There is an old adage that suggests a strong Yorkshire (in cricket terms) means a strong England. The truth of this is about to be tested off the field. Graves has a responsibility not to undermine the progress that has been made since Rafiq’s allegations came to light, and to match his own words of apology and his commitment to equity with commensurate actions for the good not only of Yorkshire, but for English and Welsh cricket as a whole.

Trust needs to be reestablished. A good place to start might be to rebuild some trust with Rafiq, rather than reappointing a previous CEO.

Timberwolves knock out defending champion Nuggets, Pacers oust Knicks

Updated 10 sec ago

Timberwolves knock out defending champion Nuggets, Pacers oust Knicks

  • Timberwolves became the first team to come back from a halftime deficit of more than 11 points to win a Game 7
  • Minnesota will play the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals while the Pacers booked an Eastern Conference finals showdown with the top-seeded Boston Celtics

LOS ANGELES: The Minnesota Timberwolves erased a 20-point deficit to stun Denver 98-90, knocking the defending NBA champions out of the playoffs Sunday as Indiana ousted the New York Knicks.

Karl-Anthony Towns scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, Jaden McDaniels added 23 points and Anthony Edwards hit his stride late as the Timberwolves became the first team to come back from a halftime deficit of more than 11 points to win a Game 7.

The Pacers connected on an NBA playoff record 67.1 percent of their shots — making 53 of their 79 attempts from the floor — in a 130-109 Game 7 triumph over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Edwards, who has emerged as a star for the Timberwolves at 22, said poise was the key to Minnesota’s latest unlikely victory over three-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets.

Down by 15 at halftime, Minnesota trailed by 20 early in the third. But Denver went cold as Edwards found his range and the Timberwolves cut the deficit to one point going into the fourth quarter.

Edwards, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half, said coach Chris Finch told him at the break to “play quicker.”

“If they’re going to continue to trap you, you got to make the right play and trust your teammates,” Edwards said. “We was just poised throughout the entire game. We just fought, fought.

“And KAT played spectacular tonight,” Edwards added of Towns. “He carried us tonight.”

Minnesota had pulled within one point going into the fourth quarter and took the lead for good on Rudy Gobert’s driving layup in the first minute of the final period.

Jokic scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter. He added 19 rebounds and seven assists and Jamal Murray scored 35 points but both said the Nuggets just missed too many shots.

“I felt like we got the shots we wanted and the opportunities were there,” Murray said.

The Timberwolves, who had rocked the Nuggets with two wins in Denver to open the series before dropping three straight games, closed it out with a blowout Game 6 win and their final comeback triumph.

“It’s a special moment,” Finch said. “This is a hell of a team with the best player on the planet. The series was wild, and this game was just a microcosm of the series.”

Minnesota will play the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals while the Pacers booked an Eastern Conference finals showdown with the top-seeded Boston Celtics.

Tyrese Haliburton scored 26 points while Pascal Siakam and Andrew Nembhard added 20 apiece as six Pacers players scored in double figures.

Donte DiVincenzo made nine three-pointers on the way to 39 points for the Knicks. Jalen Brunson scored 17 and handed out nine assists before departing with a broken left hand at the start of the fourth quarter — a final injury blow for the ravaged Knicks.

The Pacers broke through for their first road win of the series with a breathtaking offensive display in the first half, when they made 29 of their 38 shots for a 76.3 shooting percentage.

The Knicks cut a 15-point halftime deficit to six early in the third, but the Pacers had all the answers.

“Just a great game overall, top to bottom for us,” Haliburton said. “We hadn’t won on the road all series — we just found a way.”

The Knicks, chasing a first Eastern Conference finals berth since 2000, hurt their own cause with two costly turnovers on inbounds plays and the Pacers quickly pushed the lead back to 19 points.

The Knicks had hoped for a boost from forward OG Anunoby, who returned to the starting lineup after missing four games with a hamstring injury.

But Anunoby was clearly limited and departed in the first quarter as hurting teammate Josh Hart soldiered on despite an abdominal strain.

“Guys gave everything they had, and that’s all you could ask,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who was without Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson and Bojan Bogdanovic for the playoffs.

“It was a battle all year and there was nothing left to give at the end.”

Whittaker and Chimaev to clash at Saudi Arabia’s inaugural UFC event

Updated 8 min 56 sec ago

Whittaker and Chimaev to clash at Saudi Arabia’s inaugural UFC event

  • Dubai-based Chimaev is aiming to continue his undefeated streak and rise up the middleweight ranks

RIYADH: The UFC will mark its inaugural event in Saudi Arabia with a main event between No. 3-ranked Robert Whittaker and undefeated No. 10 Khamzat Chimaev on June 22.

Tickets for the event, organized in collaboration with the Kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority, are now on sale.

Former middleweight champion Whittaker (26-7-0), fighting out of Australia, returns to the Octagon with the aim to continue his winning streak.

A professional fighter since 2009, Whittaker made his mark by becoming middleweight champion at UFC 213, with his most recent win taking place against Brazil’s Paulo Costa at UFC 298.

Chimaev (13-0-0), fighting out of the UAE, aims to continue his undefeated streak. He has six wins by knockout, five by submission, and eight first-round finishes. At UFC 294, Chimaev defeated former welterweight world champion Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman in a middleweight bout.

Also on the card is Sergei Pavlovich (18-2) who takes on Alexander Volkov (37-10) in an all-Russia clash.

Other fights include Kelvin Gastelum (18-9-0, 1 no contest), fighting out of the US, taking on Daniel Rodriguez (17-4-0) also from the US, in a welterweight matchup.

Brazil’s Johnny Walker (21-8-0, 1 no contest), fighting out of Ireland, faces Volkan Oezdemir (19-7-0) from Sweden. And undefeated Shara “Bullet” Magomedov (12-0-0), fighting out of Russia, takes on newcomer Joilton Lutterbach (38-10-0) from Germany.

For Arab fans, Nasrat Haqparast (16-5-0), fighting out of Morocco, clashes with Jared “Flash” Gordon (20-6-0, 1 no contest), from the US, in the lightweight division. And Abu Azaitar (14-4-1), fighting out of Morocco, takes on Denis Tiuliulin (10-9-0, 1 no contest) from Russia, at light-heavyweight.

Zverev serves his way to Italian Open title and sets himself up as a contender in Paris

Updated 43 min 51 sec ago

Zverev serves his way to Italian Open title and sets himself up as a contender in Paris

  • It’s been a long road of recovery for the fifth-ranked Zverev after tearing three ligaments in his right ankle during the 2022 French Open semifinals against Rafael Nadal
  • This year’s French Open starts next Sunday and now Zverev has established himself among the favorites again

ROME: Alexander Zverev put on a serving clinic in a 6-4, 7-5 win over 24th-ranked Nicolas Jarry to claim his second Italian Open title Sunday and earn his biggest trophy since tearing his ankle apart two years ago.

Zverev opened the match with three straight aces and won 20 of his 21 service points in the first set. The German didn’t drop a point on his first serve until late in the second set when the 6-foot-7 (2.01 meter) Jarry ran down a well-placed drop shot and replied with a cross-court winner.

In all, Zverev won 44 of his 49 service points — helped by getting in 95 percent of his first serves.

It’s been a long road of recovery for the fifth-ranked Zverev after tearing three ligaments in his right ankle during the 2022 French Open semifinals against Rafael Nadal.

When Zverev broke Jarry to convert his fourth match point, he dropped to his knees on the red clay court, leaned back and let out a scream.

“The last two years have been extremely difficult,” Zverev said during the trophy ceremony. “I didn’t know whether I was ever going to be on this stage — regardless of winning or losing — so this moment is extremely special.”

This year’s French Open starts next Sunday and now Zverev has established himself among the favorites again — especially with top-ranked Novak Djokovic and 14-time Roland Garros champion Nadal both struggling lately. Djokovic and Nadal were eliminated in the second and third rounds, respectively, in Rome.

There are also injury concerns for second-ranked Jannik Sinner (hip) and third-ranked Carlos Alcaraz (right forearm) — who both withdrew from Rome.

“The focus is on Paris,” Zverev said. “But let me enjoy this one for a day or so, and then I’ll have my full focus on Paris.”

Zverev, who has disputed a penalty order from a German court over allegations that he caused bodily harm to a woman, faces a trial starting during Roland Garros. He said recently that he won’t attend the start of the legal proceedings.

And Zverev isn’t 100 percent healthy either. He had the pinky on his left hand bandaged due to a fall in his quarterfinal win over Taylor Fritz, after which he said he “tore a capsule” and that his finger was “crooked.” The German plays right-handed but uses a two-handed backhand.

Zverev will also be defending his gold medal when the Paris Olympics tennis tournament is held at Roland Garros starting in late July.

Jarry, a Chilean playing in his first Masters Series final, upset Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals.

“This has been an incredible week,” Jarry said.

Jarry was cheered on by his grandfather, Jaime Fillol, who was a top-20 player and who gave Jarry his first racket as a kid. Fillol was on Chile’s Davis Cup team that lost the 1976 final to Italy.

Jarry’s wife and two sons were also courtside and he grew emotional during the trophy ceremony and had to look away from his family to regain his composure.

“This is a fantastic example of what a family life on tour can look like,” Zverev said.

“I’m not so emotional,” Zverev added. “My dad cries, I don’t cry. It’s a good mix.”

It was Zverev’s third final in Rome. He won in 2017 by beating Djokovic in straight sets for his first Masters Series title then lost to Nadal in the title match a year later.

It was also Zverev’s first Masters final since getting beat by Alcaraz at the 2022 Madrid Open. The only previous titles he won since his ankle injury came in Hamburg, Germany, and Chengdu, China, last year.

Zverev earned a winner’s check of €963,225 (more than $1 million).

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek beat No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the women’s final on Saturday.

In the women’s doubles final, Coco Gauff double faulted on match point to hand Sara Errani and Jasmine Paolini of Italy the title with a 6-3, 4-6, (10-8) victory. Gauff teamed with Erin Routliffe.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos beat Marcelo Arevalo and Mate Pavic 6-2, 6-2 for the men’s doubles title.

Man City win historic fourth straight Premier League title

Updated 20 May 2024

Man City win historic fourth straight Premier League title

  • The champions’ relentless surge to the finishing line has included 19 wins and four draws since their last defeat in the league, at Aston Villa in early December
  • The Gunners, without a Premier League trophy since 2004, came from a goal down to beat Everton 2-1 but had to content themselves with second place for a second straight season

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Manchester City created English football history on Sunday, beating West Ham 3-1 to win their fourth straight Premier League title and break Arsenal’s hearts as Jurgen Klopp made an emotional Liverpool exit.

Phil Foden scored two early goals — including one after 79 seconds — at an expectant Etihad to lay the foundations for City’s victory.

West Ham’s Mohammed Kudus pulled a goal back with a spectacular overhead kick to give Arsenal renewed hope but Rodri struck just before the hour mark to effectively wrap up the title.

The Gunners, without a Premier League trophy since 2004, came from a goal down to beat Everton 2-1 but had to content themselves with second place for a second straight season after they finished two points behind City’s tally of 91.

The champions’ relentless surge to the finishing line has included 19 wins and four draws since their last defeat in the league, at Aston Villa in early December.

City, who have now won six titles in seven seasons, stand alone as the only English team to have won four straight top-flight titles, eclipsing the achievements of the great Liverpool and Manchester United teams of the past.

“When I moved here, if someone had said I would win six leagues in seven seasons I would say ‘You’re insane — no way’,” said City manager Pep Guardiola.

“All these players for Manchester United and Liverpool and Chelsea, all these teams. Now is our period. We are part of that.”

But while City have set new standards in English football, they remain under a cloud as a result of 115 Premier League charges for alleged financial irregularities, levelled early last year.

Elsewhere on the final day of the Premier League season, Luton’s relegation was confirmed with a 4-2 loss at home to Fulham. They will join Burnley and Sheffield United in the Championship next season.

Tottenham beat Sheffield United 3-0 to seal fifth spot and a place in next season’s Europa League while Chelsea guaranteed a sixth-place finish and European football with a 2-1 win against Bournemouth.

Newcastle’s 4-2 win at Brentford condemned Manchester United to an eighth-place finish — their lowest since 1990.

Erik ten Hag’s men, who beat Brighton 2-0 in Roberto De Zerbi’s last game in charge of the south coast club, have a chance to salvage something from a disastrous season in next week’s FA Cup final against City.

But if United lose that they will miss out on European football.

Foden, 23, has enjoyed his most impressive season yet for City, taking his tally to 27 goals in all competitions on Sunday, together with 11 assists.

The England midfielder opened the scoring on Sunday in the second minute with a vicious left-footed shot from outside the penalty area, settling nerves among the home fans. He then stroked the ball into the net in the 18th minute after an assist from Jeremy Doku.

The title race briefly came alive again when Takehiro Tomiyasu side-footed home to level for Arsenal at the Emirates before Kudus pulled one back for West Ham.

The atmosphere became more subdued at the Etihad but the visitors rarely threatened again in David Moyes’s final game in charge for the visitors and Rodri’s goal in the 59th minute ultimately made the game safe.

Kai Havertz’s late winner for Arsenal proved irrelevant.

Arteta gave a rousing speech to the fans in the immediate aftermath of the match, urging them to crave more.

“All this is happening because you started believing, you started to be patient and started to understand what we tried to do,” he said.

“All the credit has to go to the players and the staff. Don’t be satisfied. We want much more than that and we’re going to get it.”

Klopp ended his Liverpool reign with a 2-0 win at home to Wolves but the match was merely a sideshow as the fans paid a warm tribute to a manager who has transformed the club since arriving in 2015.

“It doesn’t feel like an end,” the German told a packed Anfield. “It just feels like a start. Today I saw a football team play full of talent, youth, creativity, desire, greed.”

He added: “We have this wonderful stadium, training center and you — the superpower of world football. Wow.”

Xander Schauffele scores major breakthrough, wins PGA Championship in a thriller at Valhalla

Updated 20 May 2024

Xander Schauffele scores major breakthrough, wins PGA Championship in a thriller at Valhalla

  • Schauffele: I told myself this is my opportunity — capture it
  • Schauffele became the first player since Phil Mickelson in 2005 at Baltusrol to win the PGA Championship with a birdie on the last hole to win by one

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky: Xander Schauffele cashed in at just the right time Sunday, swirling in a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the PGA Championship for his first major with the lowest score in major championship history.

The Olympic gold medalist got something even more valuable in silver — that enormous Wanamaker Trophy after a wild week at Valhalla.

Schauffele closed with a 6-under 65 to beat Bryson DeChambeau, entertaining to the very end with a 10-foot birdie of his own on the par-5 18th for a 64.

Schauffele became the first player since Phil Mickelson in 2005 at Baltusrol to win the PGA Championship with a birdie on the last hole to win by one. And this took all he had.

He already had mud on his golf ball on two key holes along the back nine that kept him from attacking the flag. His drive on the 17th bounced back into a bunker, forcing him to scramble for par and stay tied with DeChambeau, who had finished two groups ahead of him. And then his tee shot rolled just far enough toward the edge of a bunker to present another problem.

Schauffele had to stand with his feet in the sand, gripping well down on the 4-iron, aiming out to the right and hoping for the best. He drilled a beauty, some 35 yards short but with a good angle. He pitched to 6 feet and was never closer to finally winning a major.

“I told myself this is my opportunity — capture it,” Schauffele said.

The putt broke just enough left to catch the left edge of the cup and swirled around before disappearing. Schauffele, who exudes California chill, raised both arms above his head with the biggest smile before a hard hug with Austin Kaiser, his caddie and former teammate at San Diego State.

DeChambeau was on the range, staying loose for a potential playoff, watching Schauffele from a large video board. He saw the winning putt fall, and walked all the way back to the 18th to join in with so many other players wanting to congratulate the 30-year-old.

“I gave it my all. I put as much effort as I possibly could into it and I knew that my B game would be enough,” DeChambeau said. “It’s just clearly somebody played incredibly well. Xander’s well deserving of a major championship.”

Viktor Hovland, the FedEx Cup champion who wasn’t sure he even belonged at Valhalla while trying to work his way out of a slump, also had a 10-foot putt after DeChambeau hit his to tie for the lead. He missed the birdie, then missed a meaningless par putt and shot 66 to finish third.

Schauffele, who began this championship with a 62 to tie the major championship record, finished at 21-under 263 with that winning birdie. That beats by one shot the major record previously shared by Brooks Koepka in the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive and Henrik Stenson in the 2016 British Open at Royal Troon.

And so ended another memorable week at Valhalla.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who arrived five days after the birth of his first child, was arrested and briefly jailed on Friday morning for not following directions of police investigating a fatal car crash involving a pedestrian an hour earlier.

He got out of jail and to the course in time to play the second round and shot 66. But it caught up with him on the weekend. Scheffler fell out of contention with a 73 on Saturday — his first round over par since last August. He closed with a 65 to tie for eighth.

Two players — Schauffele on Thursday and Shane Lowry on Saturday — tied the major record with a 62. Scoring records seemed to fall just about every day on a rain-softened course.

All that, and it came down to one putt that Schauffele will never forget.

“I really didn’t want to go into a playoff with Bryson,” he said.

In so many ways, this time was overdue. He had gone nearly two years since last winning at the Scottish Open. Schauffele had eight consecutive finishes in the top 20 at majors coming into Valhalla. He already had a pair of runner-up finishes and six top 5s.

And in the last two months alone, he lost 54-hole leads when he was chased down by Scheffler’s 64 at The Players Championship and by Rory McIlroy’s 65 last week at the Wells Fargo Championship.

The victory was his eighth on the PGA Tour — that doesn’t include his Olympic gold from the Tokyo Games in 2021. This one moves him to a career-best No. 2 in the world, still a long way from Scheffler but assuring Schauffele of qualifying for the US team in the Olympics.