'Heartbreaking': Gillespie floored by racism scandal
Former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq and coach Jason Gillespie speak about racism at county club in latest episode of Cricket Connecting Country
27 October 2020, 10:05 AM AEST
Test legend Jason Gillespie says it was "heartbreaking and quite upsetting" to learn that former Yorkshire player Azeem Rafiq was subjected to what he's called "institutional racism" at times during the Australian's tenure as coach of the UK county side.
And Rafiq says he's been so hurt by his experience that he doesn't want his young son to "go anywhere near a cricket ground".
Rafiq, a Muslim of Pakistani descent, has triggered a wide-ranging review into his time at Yorkshire after he revealed earlier this year that the racism he was subjected to – and the club's unwillingness to act – left him on the brink of suicide.
A former England U19 and Yorkshire skipper who captained the likes of Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler during his career, Rafiq has since retired from the game, despite being aged just 29.
Gillespie, who joined Yorkshire as coach in 2011 when Rafiq was at the club, said he was unaware of the player's struggle with racism until he revealed all in various media interviews earlier this year.
"That was quite confronting and quite heartbreaking for me as a coach because some of those experiences happened when I was at the club," Gillespie said in the latest episode of Cricket Connecting Country, which is now available to watch in full here.
"A lot of those experiences happened when I wasn't around, but it was still quite heartbreaking to listen to that.
"I remember there were a couple of times where I saw Azeem struggling; I didn't know there was this undertone of things going on regarding racism. I remember there were some issues with his cricket, but listening to that interview really opened up my eyes that there was a lot more to that period at the club when his game was suffering and he was battling off the field, and in turn there were some battles on the field.
"It all almost meshed together ... that's why it was heartbreaking for me and quite upsetting for me to watch that.
"I watched that interview a number of times and it was a hard watch, and it should be a hard watch for people."
Launched last month, Cricket Connecting Country is an online panel series commissioned by Cricket Australia that aims to celebrate Indigenous culture and multiculturalism but also address past instances of racism in the game, both in Australia and abroad.
Australia allrounder Dan Christian shared his experiences of racism in episode one and in episode two, which will be first broadcast on CA's YouTube Channel at 8pm AEDT on Tuesday night, features Rafiq, Gillespie, Indigenous activists Benjamin Thomson and Tamika Sadler along with host Mel Jones, the former Australia player and current CA board member.
Rafiq relived several shocking moments from his time at Yorkshire, including the time a teammate told him "there's too many of you lot" when he was picked alongside three other players of Asian descent.
And he choked back tears when he revealed he doesn't want his young son to be a part of the game for fear he will be subjected to the same experiences.
"The thing that really upsets me is I love the game of cricket and I'm not sure if I want my son to go anywhere near a cricket ground," he said. "That is really, really upsetting for me.
"Dizzy (Gillespie) knows I love the game, but I haven't even got (my son) a bat or a ball yet.
"It's time we need to stop talking about (it) and showing people there's an issue; it's time to do something about it, move it forward and get some solutions."
Closer to home, Gillespie reflected on the incident from 2008 when his former teammate Andrew Symonds accused Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh of racial vilification during a Test at the SCG.
Harbhajan was later cleared of making a racially-charged comment, and Gillespie believes Symonds "was probably let down a little bit" by cricket officials.
"Symo sees things very black and white; this is what was said, so why isn't anything being done about it? And I don't think he could get his head around that so I think he felt a bit let down," said Gillespie, who played his final Test for Australia in 2006.
"I think there's got to be lessons taken from that, no doubt. There was a lot of layers to it ... there were a lot of things going on behind the scenes. I don't know exactly what was going on, but the bare facts are this happened and Symo was probably let down a little bit."
Adam Cassidy, Cricket Australia Community Diversity & Inclusion Manager, said last month that Cricket Connecting Country is a chance for the game to have difficult conversations in order to learn and avoid repeating mistakes of the past.
"This platform for us, we'd like to think that it gives anyone at any level of cricket who has experienced any form of discrimination, or that the game has let them down, comfort and confidence that we are genuinely wanting to address these past issues for them," Cassidy said.
"In saying that, what is most important is that the burden of speaking about it publicly should never be on Andrew (Symonds) or anyone who has been discriminated against unless that is their choice. It is cricket and society's issue to address.
"I'd like to think that if there was a desire from him for us to be more accountable for the way things have been handled in the past, that he'd look at this and think, maybe they're ready for a conversation, and are prepared to start addressing it."