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Lessons to be learned from YCC’s poor handling of allegations of racism

Over the past few weeks there has been uproar after institutional racism has been uncovered at Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC), dating back decades. It comes as Azeem Rafiq, the club’s youngest-ever captain and first of Asian origin, blew the whistle on over 40 separate instances of alleged racial discrimination from coaches and former team mates. Since then, seven of the allegations have been upheld by an independent report commissioned by YCCC, and a wave of ex-players came forward to share similar experiences.

As if the severity and quantity of the incidents weren’t serious enough, what has caused the greatest uproar and reputational damage has been the club’s poor handling of complaints on these issues. Not only did it fail to address complaints at the time they occurred, with Tony Bowry, former Cultural Diversity Officer at the club, claiming its board ignored complaints of racism – including Azeem Rafiq’s – but it reacted equally poorly upon receipt of an independent report into the matter.

Rather than take appropriate action, the club sought to downplay incidents as “inappropriate behaviour” and announced that not even one of its players, employers, or executives would be disciplined for their actions or inaction. This lack of accountability, ownership and leadership has resulted in significant reputational damage that will have a lasting impact on YCCC for many years to come. In its wake, the club’s chief executive and chairman have resigned, sponsors have ended deals with the club, and it has been suspended from hosting international matches.


A reminder on the Equality Act 2010 (EQA)

From an employer standpoint, there are countless lessons that can be learnt from this situation.

To start, as an organisation you should be reminded of the importance of the Equality Act 2010 (EQA), that sets out the legal framework to promote equal opportunities within an organisation. The EQA applies to any work relationship, in the provision of services and public functions, and in education. It sets out clearly that employers and principals are vicariously liable for the acts of their employees, agents and contractors, unless they can establish a reasonable steps defence.

There are different types of discrimination recognised the EQA, which includes direct, indirect, harassment and victimisation. Azeem is citing three of these in his accusations, with harassment being at the heart of it. Dissimilar to other legislation, harassment under the EQA can be from a single event or incident and is defined as:

‘Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose of effect of violating another’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.’ – Equality Act 2010

What this makes clear, is that intent is irrelevant. It is the effect that actions have on an individual and it is for them to determine what is and what is not acceptable. Going back to the independent report, within this, the use of the word “P***” was disregarded as ‘banter’ despite the word is widely accepted as offensive and racist, and it is illogical to conclude that Azeem would have viewed it as a joke.


Importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)

Whilst there is a legal framework designed to protect individuals from discrimination and encourage organisations to promote equal opportunities – that all organisations should pay attention to – following its guidelines provides more than legal protection. The benefits of embracing a culture of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are as compelling as any law to do so.

Through an EDI culture, organisations will benefit from a greater diversity of knowledge, skills and background in its decision making. It will better reflect our multi-cultural society, thereby growing its potential patron base. It will create a better more positive experience within your organisation and as importantly, it will help attract new talent.


Handling complaints

If you’re committed to a culture of diversity and conclusion and adhering correctly to the EQA, in an ideal world the likelihood of complaints will be slim. However, if someone is being discriminated against, it is vitally important to have the framework in place that allows for the situation to be dealt with. You must be able to identify and put a stop the behaviour, protect the victim from further conduct and investigate the matter with urgency.

When developing a framework, you must ensure there are clear policies in place which give guidance on how to raise concerns or a complaint and give assurances that individuals will not be treated less favourable for doing so. Any complaint of discrimination should thereby be tackled on a formal basis and treated as a grievance.

Specifics of all allegations need to be logged with detail of where, when and what incidents occurred, who was involved and if there were any witnesses. This will lay the foundations for an independent investigating officer to uncover exactly what has occurred and produce a thorough investigation report that sets out which allegations it has found substantiated and which it has not, with reasons. Conclusions will then be discussed with complainant and an outcome to the grievance in writing with any actions or steps that need to be taken.

Taking proportionate action against perpetrators is key, as proven by what has unfolded at YCCC. If the person who made the complaint is not satisfied, the organisation may be forced to prove at an Employment Tribunal that there was no discrimination or that it has a reasonable steps defence, the latter requiring it to demonstrate that it has an EDI policy, staff are inducted and trained on it (with refresher training and importantly the policy is adhered to with action taken when breached. Failing to take complaints seriously and deal with the effectively, like YCCC, would result in the such defence failing.

It is noted that earlier this week, it settled Azeem Rafiq’s employment tribunal claim for an undisclosed 6 figure sum, only 3 working days after it appointed a new Chairman – Lord Patel. Importantly, once appointed, Lord Patel has acted swiftly and dealt with the crisis head on. It is a shame such matters had to reach the level of publicity it did before Azeem’s complaints were addressed and acknowledgements made that change needs to happen.