Yorkshire County Cricket Club has turned a crisis into a PR disaster

Acknowledge, investigate, apologise, act - or, in Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s case, just stop at ‘acknowledge’ and hope for the best.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club has made all the wrong moves in handling this crisis, says Peter Jackson Eastwood
Yorkshire County Cricket Club has made all the wrong moves in handling this crisis, says Peter Jackson Eastwood

Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq alleged over a year ago that he was the victim of repeated racist abuse while playing for the county.

Yorkshire’s responses to those allegations have done nothing to quell the rising tide of negative public opinion. Instead, they have contrived to make the situation worse at every turn.

So intense now is the fallout and media scrutiny, it is difficult to see how those running the club can salvage the situation, or their reputations. In the eyes of the public and the media, they are complicit in the propagation and cover-up of institutionalised racism.

Yorkshire has had ample opportunity to deal with this issue, but so hapless has its handling been, that it has succeeded in sending a rank PR disaster into the stratosphere.

This fallout could have been mitigated if Yorkshire had been proactive, transparent, had shown genuine contrition in its handling of the situation, and taken swift and definitive action once the results of the investigation had been returned.

Instead, it has appeared unapologetic and obstinate. Apologies have been loaded with caveats, and the astonishing amount of time this has been allowed to drag on has poured petrol on to a growing bonfire of acrimony towards the county.

There are several lessons to be learned here.

First, Yorkshire needed a spokesperson to be the public face of its response, and to reassure Azeem Rafiq, Yorkshire members, the media and the public how seriously it was taking the allegations.

That Roger Hutton’s appearance before the DCMS select committee will be the first time we hear from him publicly is weak leadership and undermines whatever Yorkshire’s board does from now on.

Yorkshire also needs to apologise absolutely and unconditionally.

In the broader context of increasing awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement and racist abuse in sport, to defend the use of a word that is universally understood to be racist as ‘banter’ beggars belief.

Finally, Yorkshire needs to release the report in full and take definitive action to show how seriously it takes this issue.

Refusing to publish the report has pumped more oxygen into this story, forcing people to construct their own narratives of how deep the rot goes.

A common refrain throughout the past two years has been a desire to see more action from sporting organisations, rather than words.

Yorkshire could have set an example, but it has become a case study that reinforces suspicions that there is little appetite to deal with racism at a high level in this country.

Government pressure, sponsors pulling out, dissent amongst members: this is a full-blown crisis.

Now Yorkshire needs to take immediate action if it is to have any chance of rebuilding the shattered confidence of the UK public.

This should never happen again, but does anybody believe that it won’t?

Peter Jackson Eastwood is a senior account manager at PHA Group

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